Reflection: Leadership Response in a Time of Crisis

By Peter Cottrell CA(SA)

In a previous reflection “Life Beyond: The Inspiration of a Life at Sea” I shared a vision of hope from an inspirational South African seafarer, Constance Nengovhela.  As I reflect on Constance’s story, it offers much insight into the strategy for surviving a crisis, including a realistic assessment of the severity of the situation faced while looking ahead to the rainbow beyond the storm.

The Covid-19 Crisis has presented the perfect storm for many organisations.  At root is a pandemic that has spread at an exponential rate, which in turn has resulted in a rate of change that has been unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.  This has brought about a need to respond swiftly and to make bold decisions.  Much of the literature around surviving through a crisis use analogies of war, highlighting the need to look beyond the smoke of the immediate battle.  I would like to offer another perspective through the lens of the maritime world.

As I reflect on Constance’s ordeal of a storm at sea, there are three distinct themes that emerge which are very much aligned with the responses required to the Covid-19 Crisis: 

The first is around preparation; by its very nature seafaring is a profession that faces many risks, including storms, fire, potential shipwreck and more.  In order to avoid living in a constant state of crisis, the maritime industry has to plan, prepare and train for all of these eventualities.  Sound preparation sets a vitally important foundation for the management and survival of a crisis.

The second is survival of the crisis; there will need to be a concerted team effort to ensure the safety of the ship and the life of all on board.  Wellbeing, leadership and risk all feature strongly as critical success factors.

The third is to hold onto the hope that Constance’s story offers us; there will be a destination at the end of the crisis.  As human beings, we need to see the hope of the rainbow over the horizon to carry us through the present adversity.  We need to plan proactively to control the areas that we can control and to shape our future destiny.

A unique aspect of this Covid-19 crisis is that it comes in waves; as we think we have worked through a particular challenge there is more to come.  As a result, we may well find that the themes do not occur sequentially and sometimes we will have to backtrack in order to plan for the next round of challenges.  Above all, I encourage that we keep hope while recognising the seriousness of the challenges we face.

In due course, three further reflections will follow.  The intention of these reflections is to provide food for thought on the response to the current Covid-19 Crisis.  At the outset I must state that, although I have been involved in the maritime world through most of my career, I am not a maritime industry expert.  Rather than attempting to present a definitive account of the maritime industry’s response to crisis, these are simply thoughts which will hopefully be of assistance to our own response processes.

I trust that these reflections will be of assistance to you in finding some inspiration as you plot a course for the journey ahead.

1. Crisis Preparedness
2a. Surviving the Storm – Personal Wellbeing
2b. Surviving the Storm – Lessons Learned from a Disaster at Sea

Peter Cottrell CA(SA)
Email: | Telephone: +27 31 7613400 |

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