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Back to the Future - Titanic Lessons in Leadership

Summary: The White Star Line's Titanic was a combination of modern technology and luxury designed to tame the forces of nature. Its sheer size, watertight compartments, double hull, and other safety features caused the media to proclaim the ship "unsinkable." But as history and a popular movie recall, this was not the case. A combination of events, erroneous assumptions, and misguided actions resulted in a tragedy that cost 1,517 lives. Amid all the accusations that followed in the wake of the sinking, the underlying reason for the tragedy can be seen as reliance on the largely unquestioned assumption that the ship was unsinkable. Unquestioned assumptions can result in actions with negative and unintended consequences. The Titanic tragedy reminds us that if we look for someone to blame, we will find him. Holding individuals accountable for results assumes that their performance determines the results of the organization. Consequently, management frequently uses performance evaluation and other motivational practices that have the unintended consequence of diverting attention from collaborative efforts to meet the organization's goals. Leaders must avoid the common assumption that competition is healthy and manage the system to promote cooperation. Today it is assumed that technology will invariable improve performance and be good for business. Looking back, we can see that the need to apply new technologies in ways that benefit the system and its stakeholders is as important today as it was in 1912. It is necessary for leaders to question prevailing assumptions underlying many prevailing business practices and find new approaches.

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  • Topics: Leadership
  • Keywords: Collaboration,Competitiveness,History,Technology,Leadership,Lessons learned,Performance objectives,Interactions
  • Author: Landesberg, Phil
  • Journal: Journal for Quality and Participation