Murphy: New STCW leadership course can be full of surprises

Murphy Edit

Ah yes, the new required STCW “Leadership Class.” Let me count the ways I want to sit through a week of … what? Well, I had the exact same thought as I was walking in the door to take my class — but more on that later.

To fill you in a bit on myself, I am a longtime ship captain living in the Pacific Northwest. Because I am an instructor and do not sail much anymore, I was not really looking forward to taking these new required classes.

But with the teaching thing, you cannot get approved to teach a class until you have sat through one that someone else has presented. So there I was on a Monday morning with the rest of the not-so-excited students. The teacher (and my friend) Dale Bateman was, well, brimming over with excitement.

So why was Dale so excited about a subject that the rest of us were, at best, cautious about? We went through all the welcome-to-class stuff and introductions and the week’s schedule and that all went fine. So why is it again we have to sit here for a full week talking about stuff we think we already know?

All of us who have made it to the “big seat” consider ourselves to have some leadership ability, or how else could we have made it so far in the industry? And we all have known people who have not made it this far.

But we all remember situations along the way that, if it were the last job in the world, we still would not take it back. And it was almost never the boat that was the problem, but rather the people that made it a bad place to work. I am a firm believer that the boating industry would be an easy job to work if there just were not any people to deal with!

And that is what this new required Leadership Class is all about: people, and their interactions. It is all about how to deal with situations and crew and, yes, even how to deal with management better. Wow, sounds like a big bill to fill!

I will take a moment and fill you in a bit on some of the topics you will encounter during your week in the Leadership Class. During the first couple of days, you will get to know the difference between leadership and management. And when I talk “management,” I do not mean the guys up on the 42nd floor of the office building — they are “THE Management.” The term “management” for this context means dealing with things, whereas “leadership” deals with people.

If you need to order a case of, oh let’s say toilet paper, you would put on your “management” hat and follow the company procedures for ordering supplies that you have always used. But if the situation deals with people, you need to put on your “leadership” hat and approach each and every situation differently. Management and leadership are about the same as apples and palm trees.

The third day is my favorite. It deals with all kinds of communication. The discussion wanders over verbal, nonverbal and written ways that we move (or don’t move) information from one person to another or even a group of people.

I had one guy come to class that I have had in a couple of other programs. I greeted him and asked how life was going for him. He said: “Great, except it looks like divorce number four.” Bummer, I said. Well, the morning after the “communication” lesson he wanted to address the entire class first thing.

I do not remember exactly how he worded it, but something like: “Last night I went home thinking of the stuff we talked about here in class. And I have to say that last night was the very first time I have ever had a real conversation with any of my wives!” Wow, that is pretty powerful stuff!

The fourth day deals with diversity, discrimination, intimidation and all that kind of stuff. This day can be a bit dicey, depending on the group. Within the bounds of the class format, we take a little look into what you think about individuals and groups of people. Where did those prejudices come from anyway? And what are the financial ramifications in today’s legal world for these behaviors?

And I had all kinds of ideas brought up on this day. I had an older guy — yes, even older than I am! — who kept referring to his “men and girls” who work for him on the ship. I also had this young lady in the class that was ready to bite his head off about that.

So as a group, we stared to refer to our crew in the later discussions as our “boys and women.” Now that raised a few eyebrows, let me tell you! Some of the older guys just could not do it. What a way to capture the group’s attention.

And the fifth day we cover a few odds and ends that were not covered before. Then we review and take the test. Yes, there is a test. Most of the classes are out early enough on day five to beat the freeway traffic.

Well, there you have it. Here is a short look into a week of your future. I have presented these classes eight or 10 times now, and I have to admit that it truly has changed my life for the better. Some of my closest-held personal beliefs have been questioned, and not always have I liked what I saw.

I find it is a very hard thing to take an honest look into what runs around in your head. Why do I really like this, and why do I really hate that? Where did these thoughts come from? And when did they start? And just look at that guy! I’m telling you!

I can honestly say that most of my students in this particular class take away changes in their thinking, and also in their life. If you come into this class wanting to get something out of it, you just might be surprised at what will happen.

I cannot speak of all the teachers that present this program, but at least in my classes we laugh a lot, talk about all kinds of sensitive uncomfortable subjects and walk away having changed a little. And try giving this class over and over again — wow, I never realized how much of a self tune-up I needed. (My wonderful wife thinks I should teach this class more often. Hmmm, what is she saying?)

All I can say in closing is that I surely wish I could have taken this class way back when I was a kid. If I had gotten into the subject, I would have been a way different captain — and person — all these years. But that is all water under the bridge.

Enjoy your required Leadership Class, and be safe out there.

Capt. Dennis Murphy, of Olympia, Wash., is a longtime shipmaster and is an instructor at Pacific Maritime Institute, where he splits his time between teaching classes and working in the simulation department. He also teaches at Fremont Maritime.

By Professional Mariner Staff