David Navarro López in Engineers and Technicians, Human Resources Professionals Service Technician • Fawema GmbH Sep 29, 2019 · 1 min read · 2.1K

Sinking between Duty and Ought

Sinking between Duty and OughtWreckage in a dark and stormy night in the middle of the sea, and a tiny boat struggling not to get swallowed by the huge waves. Most of the paddles are broken, and nevertheless, the sailors keep silently and uselessly rowing, except for two of them who are trying to patch a big hole in the boat, as well as pumping out the increasing amount of water coming in.

-“Who told you to do that?”, shouts the Captain. “This is not your duty!!! Just row like everyone else!!!”

The two sailors stammer: “But somebody ought to do it, otherwise we are going to sink.

-“You are nobody to decide if the boat is sinking, or to do anything but your duty!!!” Shouts again the Captain.

-”We are sorry, Sir, we know our duty is to row, but with no paddles, our buttocks already soaking, and the other boats we were in already sunk, we thought we ought to do something else”

Did you ever have a similar situation in your working place?


Weak or unaware leaders might drive a company to a similar situation, on which the “sailors” see the “need” of doing something else instead of their duty.

There is the possibility that the sailors are wrong, and the boat is NOT going to sink. Nevertheless, the Captain’s responsibility is to keep the crew calm, avoiding them to panic and “believe” they should abandon their duties and try to save the situation.

On the other hand, it could well be that the Captain hesitates to give different orders, as he does not trust the crew is capable to do anything else than rowing, even if he sees they are sinking.

So for the two mentioned sailors there are only three possibilities:

-Go back to duty and pray while water is rising.

-Turn deaf ear to the given orders, keeping pumping water out, hoping other sailors take their example.

-Wait for an opportunity, and jump into another boat with more possibilities to survive.

Which kind of sailor would you be in the same situation?

The biggest concern for any organisation should be when their most passionate people become quiet. 
Tim Mc Clure, Professional Speaker and Leadership Consultant
Image Credits: Film "The Perfect Storm", and Internet

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Fay Vietmeier Oct 4, 2019 · #8

@David Navarro López
David~
Thank you for your thoughtful scenario of leadership.
The “Captain” of the Titanic you describe seems unable to recognize the situation and unable to lead.
This “sailor” would have kept bailing … all the while encouraging others to do the same.

GREAT leaders:
… Create a THINKING environment
… Give CONTROL to competent people who have clarity about their mission.

… Competence & clarity can be learned by involved, coach-able people.
If you care to read more from my recent buzz-post about coachable “cats” and wise herdsmen:
https://www.bebee.com/producer/@fay-vietmeier-pennsylvania/herding-cats-wise-herdsmen-coaching-collaborating-and-compromising-for-consensus

As I was reading your post … this excellent book came to mind: + its aligned to the scenario
Turn the Ship Around ~ David Marquet (Admiral)

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David Navarro López Sep 30, 2019 · #7

#5 Bravery and being a good colleague are necessary for a team leader, but only with this is not enough. You can be a good colleague and still, unable to work with a team, or maybe, you lack patience/will to work with other human beings.
On the other hand, a sailor is a sailor, but as well a human being ultimately interested in his own survival, and despite the bravery, sometimes is wiser to retreat.
Our ancestors are not the one who was brave; they got killed defending others. Our ancestors, the survivors, are the cowards, the thefts who stole the last available food from others, the traitors who swapped from the losing side of the war to the winning one.
One should meditate a lot on these facts

+2 +2
John Rylance Sep 29, 2019 · #6

This excellent piece brought to mind "Sink or Swim" Perhaps like Horatio Nelson the Captain couldn't swim. Senior Managers often limit decisions to those they can bring to fruition. 

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#3 Dear David= you define leadership beautifully "and it wouldn't be very likely for me to abandon a boat with my colleagues there not knowing what to do...".

+3 +3
David Navarro López Sep 29, 2019 · #4

#2 It is a matter of fact that senior manager within a big company use to forget that sailors are as well human beings, with their opinions and individualities. It will come a day, I hope, they will learn this fact, for the good of their companies.
Saying "no" can be a very healthy thing, but unfortunately, not always well understood.
Good for you, dear Pascal

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David Navarro López Sep 29, 2019 · #3

#1 Dear Ali, in your comment is already the answer to your question. As i would not remain quiet, I would keep pumping or look for another boat. Survival is the priority for any sailor, so if pumping is worthless, then, search for another boat. Still, pumping would be more like me, as I could hardly forget other sailors who never learned to pump, and it wouldn't be very likely for me to abandon a boat with my colleagues there not knowing what to do...

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Pascal Derrien Sep 29, 2019 · #2

When I was working in a big multinational a senior manager asked how I had managed to get out of a business trip. I told I had said no his answer was : I didn’t know you could say no

Scary 😉

+1 +1

One thing I know for sure my friend David is that you shall not be quiet in such situations. I wonder what of the three possible scenarios you would take?
This buzz is a good example for demonstrating in crisis management workshops.

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