We all got a lesson in leadership from that unfortunate collision between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a container ship off the coast of Japan. The Navy’s first concern was the safety of its sailors; there was no rush to point the finger at anyone. No one “lawyered up” or worked the media to “control the narrative” the public would hear.
Silence did not mean anything was being covered up. “Loose lips sink ships” and they also make fact finding more difficult. Every one of those sailors knew that they had jobs to do if their vessel was to be saved. Once the situation was stabilized and everyone aboard was accounted for, the investigation could proceed.
And all involved understood what that investigation would involve; every person on both vessels would be given a chance to tell their “story.” The various first-hand accounts would be laid next to each other along with external records and the official timeline. More questions would follow to clarify and correct the record.
It is a forgone conclusion that careers may end. Discipline may be ordered. Nothing can bring the seven fatalities back to life, yet their families will know that, no matter how painful, the truth will come out. There will be lessons learned and those lessons will save other sailors in the future.
The ship’s commanders will be forever scarred by the incident. A skipper is responsible for his ship and their crew — even when he is not actually on watch. The same for all the other senior staff; there will be no excuses made by them even if their punishment is an early retirement. The U.S. Navy insists that authority and responsibility cannot be divided. If you want authority you have to take responsibility and from their first days as ensigns the officer corps accepts that credo.
How many of our business problems could be eliminated if we adopted a similar understanding?