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Monday, January 23, 2012

Positive Leadership: Courage?

‘Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand them? Which of us cannot look back on his or her own life and remember decisions, or compromises made, or silences kept because of cowardice, even when the penalties for courage were negligible?

If we are cowardly in small things, shall we be brave in large? Have we the right to point the finger until we have been tested ourselves? When we read of the seemingly lamentable conduct of the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, who left his passengers to their fate, do we say, “There but for the grace of God go I”?

Of course, leadership entails an obligation to be courageous – morally, physically or both. It is the price of leadership; it is why leaders are more highly regarded and rewarded than the rest of us. But even subordinates in certain professions have the duty to be brave, as the rest of us do not. A soldier is expected unquestioningly to put himself in the way of bullets as a civilian is not……….

What, then, might Captain Schettino say in his defence? Let us, for the sake of argument, leave aside the possibility that the whole disaster was an error of his seamanship, and suppose instead that it was what some people call “one of those things”.

In a world used to the utilitarian zeitgeist, he might say that if he had stayed on board and gone down with his ship, nobody who died would have been spared. We imagine a captain on his deck, as he slips under the waves, but this is quixotic romanticism if in fact no one is saved. A captain’s life is worth as much as anyone else’s; nobody’s interest is served by his needless death.

Can we be sure that if Captain Schettino had kept calm and carried on, fewer people would have died? Can it be wholly his fault if the crew were not properly trained and members of it were not even able to communicate with each other, let alone with all the passengers? He could, of course, have refused his command: but how many of us resign our jobs on a matter of principle? If we were to do so, the unemployment rate would be nearly 100 per cent…………………………….

Could he have known in advance that he was not up to the mark, that no man was less fitted than he for such an emergency? I hope it is not taken for lack of sympathy for the victims and their relations to say that, on the scale of human monstrosity, the captain does not climb very high. His place on the scale of human weakness is another matter.’