How can the heroic actions of a merchant marine captain – captured by pirates and enduring a five-day, life threatening ordeal – relate to community and stakeholder engagement? Well, the great thing about leadership, perseverance, and the lessons that come from extraordinary life experiences is that we can often find connections to our own circumstances.
The presentation by Captain Richard Phillips at HealthAchieve was inspiring and influential. His riveting, real-life story about having his ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, and how he and his crew were able to survive, is the subject of the hit Hollywood movie, Captain Phillips.
Listening to Captain Phillips talk about that ordeal and what he took away from it, I identified three themes that relate to our work here at Delaney + Associates:
1. A good leader sees the big picture: Captain Phillips said it’s a leader’s job to understand the environment, the systems in place, the people and their roles. It’s important to step back and assess the connections, the inter-play between the systems and the people, in order to identify weaknesses, blind spots and opportunities.
We believe that big-picture approach is important in stakeholder engagement too. As part of our planning process, we conduct needs analysis, stakeholder mapping, issues identification, pre-consultation and more to ensure we have a complete picture of the project, the people involved and impacted, and the environment. This creates an environment of no surprises and sets us up to implement an effective, successful engagement process.
2. Perseverance leads to success: Captain Phillips’ mantra is, “You’re stronger than you know.” Even if you don’t have confidence in yourself, if you put a plan in place, work with a professional team and maintain a commitment to see things through, you will have a successful outcome. Oh, and sometimes we don’t quite know what success looks like when we set out – it might be that the ship sinks, all the cargo is lost, but everyone comes out alive.
When it comes to engagement, sometimes there are difficult conversations that need to take place. It can be uncomfortable, or feel risky. However, we agree with Captain Phillips: If we plan well, integrate best practice, have a good team, know what is being consistently communicated, and then see it through with grit, there will be a successful outcome.
3. Planning and practice are never a waste of time: Captain Phillips and his team were trained to prepare for the worst. They did regular drills, and knew the processes inside and out. That foundation of planning and practice meant that when the time came, they had the experience they needed to actually deviate from the plan in order to deal with the situation at hand. It also meant they knew the likely outcome of a particular approach and when they should deviate; that is, to know in an instant when innovation is necessary.
We all know the adage that the captain is always the last to leave the ship. It’s pretty much rule number one at sea. But Captain Phillips didn’t hesitate to innovate in the moment, leave the ship first and take the pirates with him – removing the threat from his team. His message is to plan, prepare and practice – have a solid plan, think about possible outcomes – but also be flexible in the moment.
This connects so well to our work in engagement and facilitation. In fact, being “process control freaks” is one of the four tenets of our company philosophy. When you work with D+A, we plan, plan, plan – down to the minute when it comes to an annotated agenda for an engagement session. Everyone’s role is clear, and we are always well prepared. Then, it’s from that solid foundation of planning and practice that we can be flexible and adaptive. Innovation and creativity can flow.