Captainship versus Leadership?

As I explain in my forthcoming book, there are WAY too many people who casually (and mistakenly) use the word leader as a synonym for executive and/or CEO. This causes many problems, e.g. if you use the words interchangeably, you lump together CEOs who create viable, healthy companies with those who've run their companies into bankruptcy. This could be easily avoided by using a prescriptive definition of leadership like mine (Leadership is using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others.) to determine which CEOs or executives are worthy of being called a leader.

If you want to blithely continue to call any Tom, Dick or CEO a leader regardless of the outcomes they product or the tactics they use to produce them, may I suggest the term "captainship" to describe the leadership ideal. Wonder why I make this suggestion? Think Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Airways flight 1549 and Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama.

What is it about these captains that make their actions worthy lessons in leadership? The saga of the Maersk Alabama and Captain Richard Phillips lead me to compare his actions with those of CEOs at the helms of American businesses. By offering himself as a hostage, Phillips put his:
  • Staff ahead of himself - think crew members. (How many CEOs have done that since the 2007 start of this economic crisis?)
  • Customers ahead of himself - think of the food aid for Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda that the Maersk Alabam was carrying. (How many CEOs have done that since the 2007 start of this economic crisis?)
  • Shareholders ahead of himself - think the owners of the Maersk. (How many CEOs have done that since the 2007 start of this economic crisis?)
I've already written about important leadership lessons from Captain Sullenberger and crew's landing of flight 1549. They include:
  • Don't look for the hero, look for the heroic in everyone...
  • When the economic engine fails, there's still energy for a safe landing...
  • and more here.
I'm not really in favor of using captainship in lieu of leadership...I'd prefer that people think carefully about who they describe as leaders and use the words executive or CEO instead of leader to describe people at the top of organizations. Unless, that is, the CEO or executives are:
  • acting ethically out of personal greatness to
  • produce real and sustainable outcomes,
  • by engaging the greatness in others.
Then they are worthy of being called leaders!

Lead On!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women. She blogs on networking for PINK Magazine. Follow her on Twitter.
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1 comment:

Susan Colantuono said...

Biz schools could learn a lesson or twenty from how these two captains were educated, groomed, deemed worthy of promotions!