PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE (ITALIAN) LEADER

18 Jan

Go back on board, DAMN IT!

This is the firm and assertive order given by the captain of the Italian Coastguard to what appears to be a coward and confused captain who just made his ship sunk for a very stupid and naive habit of sailing too close to the coast. If it wasn’t for the fact that the ship was a cruise ship, and that there were more that 4.000 (!) people on board, some of them tragically dead – we do not how many yet as we write as there are still some hopes to find someone of the missing persons still alive – this event would have been remembered as one of the many stupid things that happen around Italian coasts. The drama is that this conversation risks to represent a good (although tragic) example of what leadership can look like. Not just in Italy of course, but with a strong perspective from the Italian point of view.

Clearly we cannot generalize, one man alone does not represent either the positive or the negative aspects of a Nation or of a style, but it is very interesting to observe a number of elements out of this sad story that can still, nevertheless, teach us something about ourselves and about human behavior in general. I will try to summarize them:

1. The captain of the boat is responsible for the people that travel on his/her boat. No discussion about it. And captain Schettino’s poor attitude during the disaster was exposed to the entire world through the dramatic phone call with the coastguard who ordered him back to the ship to coordinate the rescue. His coward and vague responses to the stringent questions on the current situation which were asked by the Coastguard captain De Falco (his name means Hawk in English, for one of the many funny jokes of this tragedy where Schettino means roller-blades, like the ones he probably whish to had to escape fro this situation) generated a strong and firm reaction from Mr. De Falco “Go back on board, damn it!”, and what is this if not the perfect answers for the human need of revenge towards those cowards we all meet in our daily life? Towards those who, consciously or not, ignore our request for help, from the irritating customer service operator who takes advantage from being hiddeng and protected behind a phone, to the silly and idiot desk clerk we all meet sooner or later in our life?
Captain’s De Falco bluster contains all ours blusters, also those inner ones without an audience or without success.

2. We all like Mr. Wolf’s approach (do you remember Pulp Fiction?), the one who is in control. This is the essence of leadership, being in control and solving problems. Interesting enough a lot of people’s reactions on the web to captain’s De Falco stringent orders was ” it is easy to be in control while you are in the safe of your room shouting orders at the telephone to someone who is trying to manage it in the middle of a disaster”. We – as Italian I mean – are again divided between two parties, the ones for the hero (captain De Falco) and against the perfect escape goat (captain Schettino) and the ones who say that is too easy to judge, we are all human beings, etc. etc. In his own village, the one where he is now under house arrest, young people opened a banner in from of his house saying  “Captain do not give up”.  The fact is that we all, as human beings, always need heroes and anti-heroes.

3. Italians do it better. At the end, why did the ship sail so close to the coast and to its shallow waters? Because the captain, who is told to have a big ego by his own company – let’s admit, as many of us in this country –  wanted to do a “bella figura” with either the chief steward or a blond girl who were on the bridge. “La bella figura”, the beautiful figure, a typical Italian expression that means making a good impression, in  a sort of an aesthetic sense. And once more we have confused what is beautiful with what is good and impressing others, getting appreciations sweeps ethic aside. Leo Longanesi, an Italian sagacious writer once said that Italians prefer openings to maintenance. This marries perfectly with our strong attention to ‘non perdere la faccia’, not to lose face. Our strong attention to personal reputation in the public.

4. I must admit this, if I was on the Concordia Ship with my family I would have been in big trouble. Is this because we would have panicked or because we do not know know how to swim in case of emergency? No, it is simply because I do follow the given instructions when in a dangerous situation, assuming that the one who is giving me those instructions is fully trained and knows exactly what to do and what to say. So I would have gone back to our cabin, as suggested by one of the officers as clearly seen in a video, with all the potential dangerous consequences of this decision. How many times have we seen leaders giving wrong instructions that have caused disastrous consequences?  Business books are full of horror stories of companies brought to disaster because of the wrongdoing of its leaders.

For a country made of saints, poets and sailors, probably in the past we knew how to sink better, but the fact is that poor leadership, generally speaking, seems to be our weakness as a country. It is not that we do not have leaders, but we clearly seem to have an issue with choosing them, balanced by the generosity of our people, represented well by the inhabitants of of Giglio Island, where the shipwreck survivors landed, who in the middle of the night gave their 1000% to support them.

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One Response to “PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE (ITALIAN) LEADER”

  1. Mr WordPress January 17, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.

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