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Author: Gary Hibberd

Date: 14th April 2021


On April 12th 2021, the UK continued to follow the ‘road map’ out of lockdown, set out by the UK Government. The UK breathed a collective ‘sigh’ of relief as more sectors began to open up for business and welcome visitors. As we continue to exit lockdown, both in business and in cybersecurity, the need for good, clear leadership will become increasingly important.

But what does it mean to be a ‘leader’? Are leaders there as the person who runs the company? Is that all it takes? “Start a business – You are now a leader.”! I don’t think so. To further confuse the discussion, we need to remember that there are ‘peace time’ leaders and ‘war time’ leaders, i.e., a leader who can help during day-to-day operations and good in a crisis. Organisations need both or at least need to recognise the need for both and develop these skills.

To illustrate this point lets take a look at two leaders from history who led during an event in the month of April 1912 that symbolise what leadership is and is not.


Titanic Leadership lessons

If you’re not familiar with the RMS Titanic story, I would respectfully suggest you Google it and look at the whole story.  I have previously written on the many lessons this tragedy has to teach us but never focused on one key aspect; Leadership.

After piloting the maiden voyage of the Adriatic, in 1907, five years before the disaster which would claim the lives of 1,523 occurred, Captain E J Smith stated;

“I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

He believed that modern shipbuilding was now so safe that a disaster could not occur. He went on to say of his forty-year experience in shipping;

“When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experiences of nearly forty years at sea I merely say uneventful. Of course, there have been Winter gales and storms and fog and the like, but in all my experience I have never been in an accident of any sort worth speaking about.

“The true test of Leadership is how well you cope in a crisis” – Brian Tracy

Amongst the many attributes of leadership is keeping a clear head when a crisis occurs, and often this is developed through experience or at least the acknowledgement of the possibility of an event occurring. Captain E J Smith clearly had no ‘vision’ of a future event that could cause a ship to flounder or founder. Furthermore, when the RMS Titanic collided with the iceberg, many eyewitnesses who survived spoke of seeing the Captain in a near ‘catatonic’ state. He was unable to comprehend what was happening around him, he lost control of his command, leading to his crew making individual decisions about when and how to load the lifeboats. His delay and lack of control arguably led to more lives being lost that fateful night.

There are countless stories of heroism from the event, but we should look to the ship which came to the rescue of survivors for examples that illustrate good leadership.


The RMS Carpathia

When the RMS Carpathia received messages from the Titanic, her Captain, Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, immediately sprang into action and gave the order to turn the ship around and head towards the foundering ship. In the three and half hours that it took to reach the Titanic, Captain Rostron gave over 60 orders to his crew to prepare for the time they would get to the site. These orders included turning off all heating so that steam could be diverted to the engines and preparing oil to pour on troubled waters when they arrived and preparing food, drink and blankets for survivors.

Captain Rostron was sleeping when the message came through that the Titanic was in distress, yet his experience and training gave him the presence of mind he needed to respond effectively. His actions led to the rescue of 705 people from the Titanic disaster.

Lesson;  Stress test your Emergency Response Teams

Leadership in a crisis is different from ‘peace time’ leadership. There is a volume of work dedicated to ‘leadership’, and I would encourage leaders to dedicate some time to understanding their own leadership style and developing their crisis leadership style.

I’m not suggesting anything quite as dramatic as re-enacting the Titanic disaster, but getting your Emergency Management Team together to ‘role play’ a scenario is a great start. How will people respond in a crisis? What is their ‘crisis personality’? If you’re facing a team member who says, “It’ll never happen to us”, remind them (and yourselves) of the words of Captain E J Smith.

How we respond in a crisis might not mean the difference between life and death, but it could mean the difference between surviving as a business or not.

Without testing this, how will you know?

This blog is dedicated to those directly or indirectly impacted by the RMS Titanic disaster of 1912.

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