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Steering the ship in the right direction: leadership skills in the age of digitalisation

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From decarbonisation initiatives to autonomous vessels, disruption is the new norm in the shipping industry. Blockchain, IoT and artificial intelligence are increasingly challenging maritime leaders, with technology investments close to $1 billion, according to data by Crunchbase. This is an energising time for leaders to act on business model innovation. However, with the ever-evolving technology and skill base, can leaders always stay ahead of their teams – and do they need to?

Several experts in leadership and technology share their thoughts on how leaders can stay vigilant around the constant evolution of skills and competences of teams. 

Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, CEO Tototheo Maritime, President WISTA International, Board member Cyprus Shipping Chamber, @DespinaPan

“All leaders need to have both skills (that are learned) and qualities (that are more instinctive) that make them good; they also need to understand the benefits of personal development, both of themselves and others.

In today’s multifaceted world, successful leaders are not the ones who know everything, but the ones that can draw the skills out of others, making those people - and their detailed abilities and knowledge - a value to an organization.

In modern business, leaders are not expected to know more than their teams, but they are more likely to find success if they understand the skills of an employee and respect and encourage them. The leader of a team, or a CEO, can remain vigilant to technology change by empowering the people around her or him to help this happen, and in doing so can assess the competence levels needed in themselves and in the others, to create a successful business.”

Peter Tirschwell, Founder and chairman of the annual TPM conference and Senior Director of Content, Maritime & Trade, IHS Markit, @PeterTirschwell

“What is most important for leaders and organizations to be ahead of the curve on technology is to foster a culture of innovation, transparency, experimentation, inclusiveness and risk-taking within their organizations. As advanced as it may be, technology is ultimately implemented by people, and thus it’s people – not just leaders, but often those deep within the organization - who need to understand various technology opportunities well enough to be comfortable making or supporting decisions to deploy it in pursuit of company objectives. Culture is not always first or even high on the list of maritime industry leaders’ priorities in seeking competitive advantage for their organizations, but it should be.”

 ThomasBruun Clausen, Business Development Manager at the marine division of Alfa Laval, @ThomasBClausen

“I think technology is important when it comes to being vigilant in a maritime leadership role, but it goes beyond that. If as a leader you are always the smartest person in your team on all matters, whether it’s about technology or a specific issue, you’re hiring the wrong people.

Modern leadership is about setting a clear direction through a motivating vision, coaching your team on performance towards their goals, and pushing them through empowerment to develop themselves, the team, the company and the world. When a manager is the frontrunner it’s like having one horse set the speed of the coach and the other horses just following. Wouldn’t it be obvious that using all the horses you could move faster? And isn’t speed the name of the game?

In a digital business development team like mine I see one of my responsibilities as scanning (but not mastering) the technologies and trends out there. Then I use my department’s vision and mission to filter out the noise that would otherwise take away from my team’s focus.”

Nakul Malhotra, VP Technical Solutions & Marketing, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, @WSSNetwork

“Leaders needn't fret over keeping up with their teams' capabilities. Their focus needs to be much more on creating a high-tempo, focused environment that feeds itself, in terms of competencies and innovation. They must also ensure a robust eco-system and governance framework is in place for their teams to operate in. 

This eco-system includes an innovation friendly attitude, access to controlled environments for testing and trialing, and a professional scale-up structure in order to be able to turn creative ideas into real world solutions.

With such foundations, passionate teams can bridge critical industry domain knowledge with new-age technologies and create their own magic. Traditional hierarchies of instruction, focusing only on skillsets just won't cut it. Instead, we must incubate small, agile, cross-functional teams of experts, pursuing outcome-oriented measures.

We increasingly live in a world that is always in Beta, meaning things are continuously improving at a far quicker pace and then suddenly they are disrupted by new business models.

The irony for leaders is that in order to create an environment that can confidently address this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) situation actually requires less instructional, hierarchical control of their teams.”

Sofia Fürstenberg Stott, Business Development Manager Nor Shipping and Strategic Lead for Opening Oceans Conference, @SofiaFStott

“I think we are way past the time, when you could expect your leader to be ahead of her team, regarding technology development, their novel applications and markets. But that is not something to necessarily strive for, either. However, she should have highest levels of technology literacy, and excellent at asking the right questions, so that her team can effectively and accurately help her make the right strategic decisions.  Keeping a macro perspective, a maritime technology leader should make sure to build a team that is capable and has the mandate to interact horizontally and vertically inside the organization, as well as interacting inside an external matrix of users, developers, suppliers, researchers, financers, insurers, regulators and competitors. Organizations that trust individuals and teams to go outside the operational “conveyor-belt” metric will be those that succeed, when technology is evolving faster than organizations are able to adapt and change.”

Are you a ship manager or prospective manager who needs help with planning staff development strategically to gain a competitive advantage in the market place? Check out our courses in ship management, manning and training: http://www.lloydsmaritimeacademy.com/LMAContentLeadership.