The Carnival Cruise Disaster

by Denny Strigl

A captain is responsible for everything that happens on his ship.  He has ultimate accountability and responsibility for everything that happens and for everyone on the ship – that’s Leadership 101.  Just like the captain and his ship, a CEO is accountable and responsible for everything and everyone in his company.  

In times of crisis good CEOs are totally “hands-on” leaders.  They call the shots.  By the way they get lots of advice; lots of help, but they personally navigate their companies through rough waters.  The best CEOs run to a crisis, not away from it.

In the case of the Carnival Cruise disaster not only should the Captain have been on the ship doing all he could do to manage his crew, assist passengers and supervise the rescue efforts, but also from the moment the disaster occurred Carnival’s CEO and top leadership team should have been totally involved and committed to doing everything possible to make sure the right things were happening – to protect life, property and equipment……and to protect the company’s reputation.  It’s easy to be visible when things are going well for a company, but, in fact, a crisis is an opportunity to show the public the character of the company.  In my opinion the CEO of Carnival, should have been present at the scene of the accident to do all he could possibly do to make sure the right things were being done.  The CEO should have been communicating directly and clearly about what the company is doing…..not just prepared statements, but public appearances.

Much will come out in the investigation of this disaster, but simply on the basis of what has been reported so far it would appear there was a complete breakdown of the principles outlined in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?  At the very least there appears to have been a total lack of leadership and accountability.

The best leaders I’ve known lead by example.  They demonstrate what to do and how to do it.  They cast a positive shadow over their companies.  They do the right things even when no one is looking.  They work hard to bring out the best in their people.

Regarding the ship’s captain, I can’t help but to draw the stark contrast to Captain Sullenberger who averted disaster when he landed his U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River a couple years ago.  He took complete accountability and control and was able to avert a disaster from occurring.  As I recall Sullenberger not only landed the plane; he also directed the evacuation and was the last person to leave the plane.  Now that’s leadership!

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