India pitches ‘spirituality leadership’ for training of seafarers


India will make a pitch to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for the introduction of ‘spirituality leadership’ as a competency in maritime education and training, positioning it as a ‘Made in India’ programme to tackle issues facing the global shipping industry and help create new managers.

In an industry best known for hiring human resources from multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural backgrounds to run ships, “the incompatibility of crew to get along” pose a serious challenge to the safe operation of vessels.

“The time has come to blend spirituality with materialism,” said Deepak Shetty, a former Director General of Shipping, at the launch of the book Spirituality Leadership Competency Model written by Captain Ajay Achuthan. “You need to tap into the goodness of human being”, he said here recently.

The book attempts to explain an “inside-out” approach based on the ancient Indian philosophy of Aham Brahmasmi and the discovery of ‘self’ as a ‘being’.

Performance issues
Incidents of insensitivity, frayed nerves, sense of isolation, alcohol and substance abuse, mal-treatment of trainees/new recruits, suicides, crime and fatigue are finding their way into the open, as rising customer expectation, client satisfaction combined with emerging disruptive technologies test the mettle of managers vested with the task of operating ships.

“Maritime industry is all about vessel performance,” says Manish Jha, principal, Samundra Institute of Maritime Studies. “Maritime training cannot work in isolation from the needs of the industry,” he said.

While advocating the adoption of a “philosophical world-view” to deal with stress-induced situations, Shetty said it was not “counter-intuitive to the development and growth agenda” in shipping. “If anything, it can be a very robust complementary tool”, he said.

Lack of team work, according to Capt Achuthan, has almost always been identified as a primary cause for poor performance on board ships. “Incident analyses (accidents and near misses) have revealed that a high percentage is related to lack of effective leadership, management and motivation,” he said.

Another characteristic of shipboard working is the high level of vertical hierarchical power leading to a “command and control” type of leadership. Many times, this manifests as heady ego issues resulting in personal conflicts and low efficiency, says Achuthan.

Soft skills
The DG Shipping has to follow some international conventions adopted by the IMO to make any course mandatory. In this case, it is the standards of training, certification and watch-keeping (STCW), the compulsory training requirements for seafarers.

The STCW was amended in 2010 to introduce extra competencies like soft skill elements to training that were earlier assessed only on technical competency.

“These are now taught in training institutes, but the idea is that it has to be then practiced for it to be made more proficient. Because, these are not technical skills that you learn once and will be able to apply it anytime, you have to practice again and again, it’s human behaviour after all,” says Capt KN Deboo, Director and principal at Anglo Eastern Maritime Academy.

IMO has published model courses on leadership competences. Spiritual leadership is one method or mode of leadership. There is another model course yet to be written at the management level — leadership in managerial skills. “There is scope to incorporate spiritual leadership at least as a chapter when that model course is being written. Amongst all various leaderships, spiritual leadership can also be added. It will not become a separate course by itself. I’m sure, we will be able to convince IMO to put at least a chapter and that could be taught all over the world and also approved through the DGS course curriculum,” says Deboo, who attends IMO meetings on the subject as an Indian delegate.