In a way our industry forms its Captains and Chief Engineers in such way that they become pretty conservative in their way of thinking. This means that it can be difficult to introduce new ideas and new ways of doing. How do we face this challenge when we wish to introduce a new concept of leadership to this group of officers? How can we persuade them to adopt new and different mindsets?
Training Managers and Crewing Superintendents have often given us these questions since we started promoting our leadership courses. Today, after having had hundreds of senior officers through our courses, we can see where they are coming from. Some of these guys indeed find it challenging to manage and accept changes.
Is it at all possible to institute new ways of doing here? In trying to answer this let us first go through some of the fundamental learning principles we apply when we deliver our courses.
If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost make sure to find him where he is and begin there. This statement was put forward by our famous Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author, Søren Kierkegaard. Although he passed away in the year of 1855 his thoughts has exerted a substantial influence on our culture and the way we think in our society still today.
As a course in leadership often is about introducing a new mindset it makes good sense for us to use Kierkegaard’s wise words when we set the scene. Therefore, we often start our courses by assessing where our participants are by asking questions, like for instance: ‘Think of a Captain or Chief Engineer that you have sailed with whom you considered as being a good leader. What did that person do? Describe his or her behaviour.’
We ask the participants where they are when it comes to defining good leadership traits.
When the participants start introducing the behaviours shown by their former superiors we often see some common features surface. Sometimes it deals with; assertiveness behaviour, communication, or about the ability to motivate and give feedback. All behaviours are listed on flipcharts and posted on the wall enabling us to re-connect when we introduce theories and tools at a later stage in the course.
Sometimes the participants will introduce behaviours that will deal with the ability to create an imaginary space where both leader and team feel comfortable. Statements like; ‘The Captain had no hidden agenda; we knew exactly what he represented and somehow he also knew where we were’, are often put forward when this ability is mentioned.
In that case we will typically introduce the ’Johari Window’ for the participants. This mindset was created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 and deals with an imaginary space and the importance of maintaining it when you are a leader, as it helps people better understand themselves and their relationship with others.
One could say that the ‘Johari Window’ is a visual representation of a person’s character, and is represented with a four-quadrant grid. The goal is to demonstrate the importance of open communication, and to explain its effect on group trust. The model also teaches the importance of self-disclosure, and shows how group feedback can help the leader to grow, both personally and professionally.
The four quadrants are:
1. Open Area (Quadrant 1)
This quadrant represents the things that you know about yourself, and the things that others know about you. This includes your behavior, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and ‘public’ history.
2. Blind Area (Quadrant 2)
This quadrant represents things about you that you aren’t aware of, but that are known by others. This can include simple information that you do not know, or it can involve deep issues (for example, feelings of inadequacy or incompetence), which are often difficult for individuals to face directly, and yet can be seen by others.
3. Hidden Area (Quadrant 3)
This quadrant represents things that you know about yourself, but that others are not aware of.
4. Unknown Area (Quadrant 4)
This last quadrant represents things that are unknown by you, and are also unknown by others.
The participants will discuss own experiences as well as pros and cons of the characters related to each area. However, the conclusion or main message we will focus on is that the leader can build trust with his team by disclosing information about himself. Furthermore, through the feedback he gets from his team he can learn about himself and come to terms with ‘issues’ that he might have.
Then we move to increasing the participant’s open area in quadrant 1, the quadrant where the participant is familiar with his own personal abilities and where this is also known by others.
We will do this by introducing personal profile programs, theories and tools on delegation, motivation, communication and feedback. In this process we will use case studies, role-plays, game activities and other cooperative learning methods to ensure the participants are constantly motivated and stimulated seen from a learning perspective.
So coming back to the initial question; can you teach an old dog new tricks? Well, as mentioned initially a large percentage of the course participants could be categorised as somewhat conservative and old fashioned. But we have always somehow managed to find a way to influence them and unleash their capability of considering and finding alternative ways of doing when it comes to leading other people.
So if you make sure to find your ‘old dog’ where he is and begin there, if you introduce well documented and acknowledged theories and tools and connect them to everyday situations which people can recognize from their working environment on board, if you make sure to activate people during your learning process – then I would say: yes, it will definitely be possible to teach them new ways of doing.