In recent years there has been an increasing interest within the shipping industry in ‘kind leadership’, says the Maritime Professional Council of the UK (MPC). A new MPC report, simply called ‘Kind Leadership’, has found evidence that the adoption of this approach can transform leadership and safety culture, and improve the well-being of individuals.
So, what is kind leadership? Captain John Wright, co-author of the report explains: “Kind leadership is an approach to leadership that creates a satisfying, inclusive and enabling working environment, which significantly contributes to measurable improvements in safety and commercial performance. It builds on the core values of respect and engagement that fosters effective communication and collaboration.”
The MPC’s research was aimed at discovering if kind leadership has a place in the maritime industry. Could it be used to enhance the industry’s leadership and safety culture, and could it improve the well-being of individuals?
MPC member organisation The Nautical Institute invited its members and non-members to complete a survey which resulted in 119 comprehensive responses. Of these, 88% agreed that there was a place for kind leadership in the maritime industry. They generally viewed it as an effective way of enhancing leadership, safety culture, team motivation, communication and improving the well-being of individuals. Some respondents advocated the creation of group goals and the elimination of the blame culture in favour of learning from mistakes.
The survey revealed a strong belief that kind leadership could be learned and taught in the working environment and through carefully planned activities in the classroom and online.
A second co-author of the report, Steve Cameron, said: “There is a lack of proper leadership and soft skills training in current STCW training – it’s too process driven. Technology is providing the support for many of the traditional technical aspects of the seafarer’s role, but in the future, the ‘soft’ leadership skills of emotional and social intelligence will be essential.”
Adam Parnell, Director of CHIRP Maritime, part of the Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme, said: “This report is invaluable. Too often, leadership discussions focus on toxic leadership (the bad) rather than kind leadership (the good). In publishing this report, the MPC has moved the collective conversation forward. Adopting these principles across the maritime industry will improve safety, effectiveness and efficiency for all, and deliver a more motivated, engaged and more resilient maritime community.”
Professor Carole Davis, co- author of the report said : “A major theme in our findings was the impact onboard leadership practices had on cadets. We believe that the practice of kind leadership has a positive impact on cadets’ mental wellbeing, their progression through training, and their completion rates.”
The report makes recommendations on how kind leadership should be taught in the maritime industries. Among them are integrating kind leadership into a modernised cadet curriculum to prepare the maritime leaders of the future and formal mentoring. This would require shipping companies to realistically implement and evaluate mentoring in a work-place setting.
Kind leadership should, the MPC urges, be used to improve teaching and learning practices during the ‘sea phase’ placement of cadets, including the introduction of benchmarks and standards that can hold companies to account.
The MPC is now promoting the concept of kind leadership through social media, webinars and by approaching key decision makers to explain the importance of radically transforming the shipping industry’s approach to leadership.
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