The Captain (Leader) Must Go Up With the Ship

35577553 - wooden wheel on the ship at sunset on issyk kul lake

You are undoubtedly familiar with the age-old term, “The captain must go down with the ship,” referring to if the ship is sinking, the captain must do everything he or she can to ensure the safety of everyone else before possibly abandoning ship.

The captain of the Concordia cruise ship in Italy that capsized just a few feet from shore a few years ago was excoriated for allegedly jumping ship and leaving passengers, some of whom died, to fend for themselves.

I take you now from that life-or-death scenario and bring you to the classroom.  I have facilitated hundreds of sessions that build people management skills of leaders. The topics of the sessions are usually leading people, coaching, motivating, influencing, leading change, and many others.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this question/comment:  “Has my manager been through this session?”

This, by far, is the number one question or comment I hear.  I say question or comment because its hidden rationale, which I always bring out in the open, is: my manager needs this stuff more than I do!

It’s been my experience that far too few managers of managers have gone through any leadership training.  How can it be that the leader doesn’t get the management training, but their direct reports do?

Think about it, you don’t see this anywhere else –not in sports, when your child receives dance lessons or learns how to play a musical instrument.  The instructor, coach, manager has the skill and knowledge to guide your child to learn the skills being taught.

Why should it be any different in the business world?  It shouldn’t be.  This is a backwards way of doing business.

So what’s the business rationale for leaders going through the same skill building training that their managers go through?

Research conducted every year by highly-respected human resources and training consulting firms continues to show that those organizations that build managerial skill all the way to the top generate the most profits, revenue, and net income.  People in every part of the organization feel “engaged.”  While one of the most used buzzwords of the millennium, it is an important ingredient in having committed employees who give everything they have because they feel supported and generally well treated.

Aside from the bottom-line impact, a true leader should want to get immersed in the same skill set as their managers because it increases their ability to:

  • Lead by example –This is at the forefront of exhibiting good leadership. A good leader doesn’t ask her people to do anything that she would not do.  Her people will take the training more seriously and incorporate it into their daily routines if they know the leader has done it and will be monitoring what they are doing with the skills they have learned.
  • The leader can do one of their primary jobs, coach –Coaching should be one of the key responsibilities of any leader. Coaching allows the leader to reinforce good behaviors in hopes that they will be replicated, or redirect less appropriate behaviors if not on course with what was focused on in the training session. Managers who coach people need to be coached by their leaders.
  • Creating a culture of development –If all employees see that their leaders have gone through the leadership training, they will realize that the organization is committed to their professional and personal development. With this knowledge, employees become more engaged (there’s that word again) and the organization reaps the bottom-line benefits.

In the movie based on a true story, “Captain Philips”, Tom Hanks portrayed a captain of a ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates.  Throughout the ordeal, Hank’s character stood up for his crew, making himself a hostage and putting his own life in danger.  He did not subject his crew to any possible harsh treatment that he was not willing to go through.

No one is asking the leader of managers to take such drastic measures.  It is not, however, too much to ask leaders to go through leadership development training and incorporate the skills in managing their managers.

That would change the question, “Has my manager been through this training,” maybe to, “where can I get more training like this?”


Walter Hoff