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Leadership Development: alternatives and options

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Leadership and the yacht captain has come into sharp focus after the initial publication of The Triton survey concerning captains’ leadership capabilities.



My recent article about it fielded many comments. Some people proposed that yacht captains’ leadership weaknesses had allowed management companies to step in and exert control of yacht operations, whilst others bemoaned the apparent swiftness in which a person can gain the command of a large vessel by achieving the required technical qualifications but perhaps not having established effective leadership skills. Others have questioned the benefits of the recently introduced HELM training solutions adopted by the industry.



It’s not my intention to analyze these remarks, but to note that they are a representation of the issues associated with the leadership gap debate.



Feedback clearly supports the notion of leadership training and development for yacht captains. There seems to be an emergence of an industry consensus that today’s environment of larger yachts with larger crew requires captains with well-developed leadership, management, finance and organizational capabilities and finely tuned interpersonal skills.



Leadership program effectiveness is a complex topic in its own right and deserves some closer discussion. I can think of no other industry where a senior (management) appointment, having the breadth of operational, organizational and staffing (crewing) responsibilities similar to that of a yacht captain, does not require a higher level of education and a continuing professional development program.



The yachting industry, to me, is clearly out of step with the wider corporate and organizational world when it comes to leadership education and training for its managers.



Industry leadership training formats have traditionally been modeled on a “course attendance” style framework. In many cases these courses are delivered by for-profit training organizations and accredited by the certifying authority or institution, and typically modeled on attendance at events, retreats or multi-day programs.

This confined, time-limited, coursework-based program solution contends that leadership development is achieved by short, classroom theory-based teaching. It assumes that learners can step into or out of daily work responsibilities, be exposed to leadership concepts, and, by immersion or exposure to the theory, become capable leaders.



These events can be useful in exposing learners to basic leadership concepts. However, acquisition of leadership skills requires much more. Moreover it requires the right “framework/context or environment” exist, one which prioritizes values and celebrates learning.



The HELM program recently introduced has been advocated by some yachting industry training organizations as “satisfying the missing training link” for yacht captain leadership training. Other training organizations have been more circumspect, noting “it is a good start but not the solution” and have advocated ongoing structured leadership training.



The HELM program is mandatory for those seeking new CoC for a range of positions after Aug. 31, 2013, and existing deck officers re-validating apparently do not have to undertake the HELM program.



The development of leadership capabilities for new yacht captain candidates is unlikely to be suitably addressed by those new candidates attending a time-limited course. Why is this the case? Because following on from the program, it is unlikely that the learners will be able to put into action the concepts learned or have follow-up from any entity to discuss the challenges they face. Moreover, the environment for learning leadership competencies is not conducive to ongoing skill development.



The MLC position on existing deck officers re-validating and not being required to undertake the HELM program is intriguing in that it implies that a person’s experience results in increased/improved leadership competency. This is surely questionable, considering the findings of the recent Triton survey and general principles of continued exposure to new knowledge and ideas.



Leadership cannot be learned by attending a program. It is an ongoing process that builds on experience, practice and experimentation. Situations develop leadership skills, and those skills should be supported in an industry-wide framework of mutual development and positive learning experiences.



The noises we hear about yachting being a “special case” and of captains not having time or working in remote locations are just not acceptable today. There are ways to develop professional development initiatives using contemporary instruction methods.



It is both the individual captain’s and the industry’s responsibility to recognize that ongoing leadership training is necessary. Moreover, it is the industry’s responsibility to create the platform for leadership education and development, not just to treat it as an “add on” but to insist that it become a fundamental part of a captain’s education program and ongoing professional career development.



The Yacht Captains Association (proposed) believes that leadership training and development is an essential component of the captain’s professional skill set and has set continuous professional development as a core element of its mission statement.



Capt. Ian Bone has a previous career in leadership and organizational consulting and is involved with a small group of yacht captains researching the viability of a Yacht Captains Association. Comments are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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