There will probably be no more iconic symbol for failure in our lifetime than the picture of the Costa Concordia cruise ship listing while aground off the shore of Italy. At least seventeen people died in the tragedy after the captain of the ship (apparently) intentionally moved closer to the shore than is safe for ships of that size.
It is easy to compare the Costa Concordia with the Titanic, another cruise liner disaster from long ago. But there are some key differences. And it is in those differences that we can learn a few lessons to navigate life.
First, the Titanic was built in an era of big ships but with no technology available for the captain to see his way ahead. Radar was decades away from development. So as the Titanic was built and launched, its claim to being unsinkable was predicated on the toughness of the hull of the ship.
It is not surprising that the crew could not see an iceberg that was large above the water line and much larger still below the water line. Back then they could only see what their eyes could see. (Interestingly, if they really believed the ship was unsinkable, why would watches even need to be posted?)
The Costa Concordia, on the other hand, had all the advantages of modern technology. It not only had radar to see above the water, it had depth finders and quite possibly even sonar. (I am not one hundred percent sure of that, but the technology certainly exists today.) The crew should have known how deep the waters were and, because of GPS where they were within thirty feet of accuracy.
Yet due to hubris and human error, the Costa Concordia was where it should not have been. And despite the technology, the crew ran aground, the ship foundered, and lives were lost.
There is so much to learn here about leadership and life. Let me suggest four:
- When we cannot see clearly, we should exercise caution. The Titanic’s crew could not see that far ahead, but they proceeded without caution. We may feel tough. We may feel unsinkable. But if we don’t have clear vision, or if we cannot enunciate a clear vision, we are in danger if we rush ahead blindly.
- When we don’t pay attention to feedback, we can run aground. The danger here is due to not recognizing the danger. Failure to seek feedback is folly. Failure to listen to it is foolishness.
- When we have vision, we need to clarify it regularly. Instruments on aircraft or ships need to be calibrated to verify accuracy. In life, we need to clarify our vision repeatedly in order to insure that we are on track with where we want to go. A friend once told me if you profess to have vision but no one is following you, it is likely you merely had indigestion.
- When we have clarity, we need to practice humility. Every person who is more confident in themselves than in the vision they espouse is vulnerable to prideful downfalls. Great leaders can crash in the blink of an eye.
We all make choices as we navigate life. We all have an impact on others, whether it is our family, friends or colleagues. It is vitally important for us to have a clear sense of ourselves, a clear sense of our relationship with the Eternal, and a clear sense of our relationships with those we influence. If we have that clarity we will see success, but if we don’t we may well crash on the rocks.