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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

Miracle in the Mediterranean - Nope

Updated: May 10, 2018

A recent event in the Mediterranean gives us an opportunity to assess our ability to lead under difficult circumstances. One of the most effective ways to learn is through contrast and comparison and seldom are we given such contrast as in the case of Captain Francesco Schettino, skipper of the Costa Concordia and Captain Chelsey Sullenberger of the Miracle on the Hudson.

As background, on January 13, 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground on a reef while passing to close to shore. The ship remains on the reef, a complete loss, with 32 passengers and crew dead or lost at sea. Almost three years earlier, on January 15, 2009, USAir Flight 1549 struck a flock of birds 17 seconds into its flight from New York to Charlotte. The plane had to be ditched in the icy Hudson river, all 155 passengers and crew survived.

Captain Schettino is under arrest and facing charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing shipwreck. If convicted, he could face 15 years in jail. “Sully” was given medals from his industry, served as Rose Parade Grand Marshall, lauded in songs and given a standing ovation by a joint session of Congress.

In listening to live recordings and reading accounts of both incidents the following contrasts are evident.

Captain Schettino:

  • Attempted a cover up telling the Italian Coast Guard he had a “small technical’ problem

  • Showing off by deviating from the ship's computer-programmed route to treat people on Giglio Island to the spectacle of a close sail-past

  • Acting carelessly by not giving an order to evacuate was given until 65 minutes after the impact. An off-duty captain from a sister ship who was on board actually began the evacuation

  • Was inattentive to duty, although married, he was seen entertaining a 25-year-old dancer at dinner and on the bridge prior to the crash

  • Did not follow protocols, reports describe his crew as unorganized and confused

  • Deflected responsibility, he stated he was ordered to perform he “sail-past” and still trying to explain away the incident

  • “Fell” into lifeboat while scrambling over passengers according to some eye witnesses

Captain “Sully”:

  • Immediately alerted the authorities

  • Maintain calm composure immediately instructing his 2nd officer to begin the process for an emergency landing

  • Was focused, looking for options, in seconds considered a return to LaGuardia, Newark and Teterboro airports before decisively selecting the river

  • Followed all protocols including choosing a ditching location near ferry docks ensuring a prompt rescue

  • Took control even directing the rescue ships to focus on those on passengers on the wings first

  • Deflected praise contending he was just doing his job

  • Last to leave the ship, he and the 2nd officer walked the plane twice to make sure everyone was off the vessel before they departed last

The Lessons of Leadership are Evident:

  • Maintain a sense of calm and control

  • Communicate, Clearly, Completely, Honestly

  • Have and Follow Procedures/Protocols

  • Evaluate your Options

  • Be Decisive

  • Take Responsibility

  • Be Selfless

In addition to the leadership lessons a review of these events also asks us as Leaders how do we select Sullenbergers and not Schettinos to lead in our organizations.

The selection process needs to assess basic personality traits:

  • Are they Selfish

  • Are they Indecisive

  • Are they disciplined

  • Do they consider all options

  • Do they exercise consistently good judgment

This can be done by consistently using validated pre-hire assessments and properly structured interview questions. Being able to perform the duties of the position are not the only criteria that should be used in selecting leaders.

Even though you might not have the level of life or death responsibility that a vessel captain has, it is your responsibility to ensure you and those you choose to lead are Sullenbergers and not Schettinos.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

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