Crisis Leadership 6 – Captain Smith


We tend to assume that captains in the army or navy or aviation do possess the magic of leadership – by default.  It must be the title or the gilded uniform or the history that gave us so many military leaders. Today I am not going to argue this theory, although I do not buy generic rules of people behavior. Top ranking in a hierarchy may appoint somebody as a manager, but it doesn’t anoint as leader.

Today is a special day – the Titanic day.  Some people say this event a hundred years old is way overrated and the publicity campaigns around the discovery expedition of Robert Ballard or the subsequent majestic movie of James Cameron have abused this tragedy that seems minor in comparison with what bloodshed mankind has had in store in the past hundred years.  Others honor the drama of thousands of people twisted between the social strata and the dark waters of the ocean.  A drama showing in freezing moonlight the mass conflict between animal instinct for survival, the  insufficient rescue boats and the apparently well established order of social priorities in saving human lives.

Over this mayhem facing the imminent catastrophe the respectable figure of Captain Edward John Smith became the only mast and anchor of calm and order even if there was nothing left to be done.  He gave the terrified people around him what he could still offer as a dignified last resort.  Solidarity, as a true leader.  Most historians give credit to witnesses pointing out to his last appearance on the bridge 7 (seven!) minutes before the once-believed unsinkable Titanic went down.

In the mini-series dedicated to Crisis Leadership, the Titanic as the most famous, emotional and researched civilian crisis must take its rightful place.  The imposing but not arrogant posture of Captain Smith surrounded in our imagination by the band of musicians playing incessantly and professionally to calm down hysterical behaviors paint a long-lasting symbol of the fateful end some crises do have.

While Titanic and its fate still make people around the world shiver and reflect, Captain Smith’s reported resting place calmly demands our respect: 41°43′32″N 49°56′49″W.

PS    R.M.S. Titanic