CEOs or Captains?

CEOs or Captains?
By Jonette Crowley

A recent Denver Post, highlighted the courage of two heros: one, U. S. Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who successfully landed his plane on the Hudson River after the engines became disabled; two, Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama, who allowed himself to be taken by pirates to save his crew. Both of these men demonstrated courage and skill, while taking total responsibility for their people in a situation that could have been beyond their control. These men are not captains in the military. They are civilians. They are managers. Like managers everywhere they are in charge of capital equipment, employees, customers, safety and goals.

Contrast them with the story earlier this week of ex-Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio beginning to serve his 6-year prison sentence for insider trading. His name, adds to the list of wealthy CEO’s of huge companies sentenced to prison for fraud and other crimes, executives such as Bernard Ebber of WorldCom and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron.

These CEO’s and the captains each faced extraordinarily difficult situations—the CEO’s faced (helped create?) the financial meltdown of their companies. The captains faced imminent, perhaps catastrophic danger. The CEO’s acted like emperors, grabbing riches and surrounding themselves with lawyers. The captains assessed the situation, behaved as heroes, and in the case of Captain Phillips, put his own life in danger to protect his crew.

As managers we each decide daily if we have the true grit to behave as these captains did, taking full and complete responsibility for the situation and their charge. We can take seminars in accountability or we can read the newspapers and decide who are the real leaders and who we want to be.

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