Millennial Seafarers and a new definition of Authority


#maritimetraining #seafarers
The way Millennials view authority is vastly different from the generation before them and this shapes a lot of aspects when it comes to shipboard work and Maritime training.

Did you think you’ll be respected just because you are a senior? Welcome to the world of the millennial seafarers. Now you have to earn it!

I am, so you are!

We have come a long way.

The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt ruled with a theocratic monarchy; the king ruled with the mandate of the heavens. People followed them to the grave, with or without their will, because they saw them as descendants of the Gods.

The twentieth-century leaders broadly believed in a directive or autocratic (Top-down) style of management. People believed they were not just superiors in rank but also intellect, experience, skill and understanding.

Leaders led and others followed (a style called McGregor’s Theory X). They used the word ‘leaders’ to mean what we now call ‘managers’.

And now your teenage son would not listen to you! Think about that.

Society in general: Then and Now

Here’s what changed between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Firstly, over the last few decades, parents around the world started including their children in their decisions.

Household structures became more flexible, with everyone having a say, and the minds of the millennial generation started forming more and more opinions. They started taking confident decisions in real life and were often validated, even encouraged for those decisions, starting from what they wanted to eat for breakfast to whom they wanted to go out with.

Secondly, many jobs started turning from being labour-intensive to white-collar. Everyone wanted to have their say, and often this was found much more helpful in the workplace.

Lastly, if there was even a slight string of doubt in that, in came the technology-boom to liberate us!

We are in a global age now.

Before technology, we did not know the concept of freedom of thought & expression spread around the world! If you are in a suppressed family or society or workplace, you still feel the need to break out, because you can now see the rest of the world. The internet became the ultimate expression of freedom!

Everyone is valuable, and everyone is important now! If you have a Facebook account, you see everyone around you has fun every day! Life is amazing. They all seem to have figured it out in their way.

The young millennial started asking himself – “If everyone is entitled to have an opinion, why shouldn’t I?”

Hierarchy replaced by authenticity

Whether it was for the betterment of humanity or not is a separate debate. But this collaborative and connected environment brought about a significant change in the concept of hierarchy and authority. This one realization can change your relationship with your juniors!

This concept can entirely change how you view your work with the millennial seafarers.

The GenXs are defined as one generation before the millennials.

The GenXs, for the most part, thought of their bosses as experts in their fields. It was the top-down style, or the control and command style. The bosses felt more in control, and what they said would be the accepted truth! No one would ever doubt that!

Well, did they know all of it? Or was it just an illusion? We could not know for sure at the time. There was hardly any way to verify.

Let us see what happened between them and the Millennials.

Millennials across the world in general, and millennial seafarers specifically, on the other hand, stopped associating any particular person in a hierarchy as being perfect. They always had access to information to crosscheck. They realized that the person preaching may not always be perfect in the job.

If you are working with the millennial generation, do not expect them to respect the chain of command just for the sake of it.

They genuinely feel equal, just a little lower in the food-chain for now. They think that their voices must be heard as much as yours!

Are the Millennial seafarers arrogant?

Do not get me wrong.

I do not mean that they are all arrogant or insubordinate. There are protocols that they adhere to because their profession demands them. A soldier would dare not talk back to his commanding officer! A junior engineer on a ship will listen to the orders of a Chief engineer without question.

Just to be clear, the ship is not a democracy! We will not, and we should not take a vote before every decision on board. There are places where the senior will put his foot down, and the junior will follow, no questions asked. This concept must be clear.

All I am saying is, if they are keeping quiet, it does not mean they think you are right. For the most part, it is not out of respect for the rank! They either think it is not their place to comment, or they don’t care, or they feel duty-bound to follow orders without question.

Earn your respect onboard

On the face of it, this looks like a loss.

It is a big reason for complaint from many individuals in the earlier generation of seafarers. But if you think harder, we are merely complaining about a lost tradition of free passes – a time when we used to think all our seniors were champions in their jobs, even before we knew them!

Respect still exists. Only now you have to deserve it!

Have you ever seen that the moment you ask your subordinate to wear their safety shoes, and they look at your feet?

Perhaps there was a time when you could just say:

Do as I say, don’t do as I do! Why? Because I said so.

But not anymore. You walk on deck one day without your proper protective gear, and there will be a near-miss report from a junior that you have to answer to. You take a shortcut to violate a regulation, and there may be someone reporting it! The Boss is also questioned!

The one message which keeps echoing from our millennial juniors is –

“Rules are not only for us! If you want us to follow them, you do that first.”

Individuals are respected, not ranks

Here’s the thing about the young millennial seafarers.

They respect individuals, not ranks!

Earning your respect takes some effort, but when you do, it is much more organic. It sticks with you even when you have lost your rank.

Set an example for them! Not only in your awareness and knowledge, but also in your behaviour. Stay composed, stay directed, exude confidence, show compassion. Motivate them with active participation, not only words!

You have to get involved. If you are seen once a month, you are not that important. Interact face to face. Speak, share goals, objectives. Hold them accountable. Push their limits.

Trust them, incentivize when you can. Encourage. Motivate!

  • Allow your staff to walk in at any time to discuss personal problems. This is very important if you are working with young millennial seafarers. You are never too busy for them.
  • Keep promises. Don’t make them unless you can keep them.
  • Fend for your people. Support them before third parties, reprimand them in private if necessary. Take responsibility for their mistakes. Share your victory!
  • It takes time to create an environment of sharing ideas but takes an instant to break it. Just laugh at one person for an opinion, and no one will ever come forward.
  • Create leaders! Share your principles with those who are aspiring or interested.
  • Communicate clearly. Address doubts before a job.
  • Laughter is a great motivator. Well-timed, not cheap.
  • Allow teams to work independently; step in only when necessary.
  • Reward performance. Reward safety.
  • Teach them only when you see the interest. Don’t push it. But try to develop the environment to ask questions.
  • Allow them to give feedback without being scared.
  • When something goes wrong, do not hit the individual—only the system.

Be proud of them, and they will make you proud!

An example of authentic leadership

The former president of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, shared a genuinely inspiring story on how a leader commands respect through actions. In 1979, the Indian Space Research Organization was about to launch The Satellite Launch Vehicle 3(SLV3). Dr Kalam was mission director, and it was his job to put the satellite into orbit. Thousands of people worked for a decade for this moment.

The countdown was on, T minus 5 mins, T minus 4 mins…….

At T minus 40 seconds the computer put a hold, warning not to launch!

There was a leakage indicated in the system. Experts suggested it will be okay to launch. Dr Kalam decided to go ahead and launched the SLV-3 by bypassing the Computer. The first stage went well. The second stage went into a spin, and the SLV-3 landed in the Bay of Bengal!

Dr Satish Dhawan, Chairman of the ISRO, called Dr Kalam for the press conference that day. The world media was looking at India with sarcasm. He takes sole responsibility for this massive failure before the entire world and supports his team wholeheartedly. He promises that next year the same team will put the SLV successfully in orbit!

July 18, 1980, ISRO successfully launches the SLV into orbit, still under the command of Dr Kalam. This time Mr Dhawan does not go to the press conference. He asks Dr Kalam to conduct it on his behalf!

In failure, the leader took it up. In success, he gave it all to his team. This remained as an unforgettable instance of true leadership in Dr Kalam’s mind.

We are moving from an era of Directive leadership to participative leadership. People follow managers because they have to. They follow leaders because they want to. Leaders command respect. One who is part of the group sharing the same concerns, one who knows when to step in and when to step out, is respected and followed.

Who told you relationships end at gangways?

Like any relationship, it does not end there, if you have worked for it.

Most importantly, what we are discussing here becomes vastly relevant if you have anything to do with training young millennial seafarers, whether ashore or onboard.

Conclusion: Learn to Say I don’t know

One of the most beautiful things that happened is that with this generation, you can now say: I do not know.

We have all seen masters and bosses of the past, too reluctant to admit that they don’t know. Quite justifiably, because with the previous generation saying that would make you look weak.

Here is a dynamic shift in concepts.

With the young millennial seafarers, you can confidently say that you do not know an answer and that you will find it out. You do not have to look knowledgeable; that would not work for you. It is a collaborative world! They can find it out quickly.

The young millennial generation does not see their leaders as coming from a different planet.

They see them as individuals, honest enough to admit when he does not know something, to ask for help when he needs assistance, but yet in control of the situation at all times. That is the person they want to follow; that is the vision that they have of their leader.

Your junior asked you a question.

There is no need to shoot off a confident answer if you are unsure about it. Just take the time to find it out along with him. You will see how he engages himself when he sees you involved!

If you give him a false confident answer, it harms him; if he calls you bluff and finds out the real information, all your charisma becomes an illusion to him. His respect for you flies out of the window! You are not the leader he wants to follow anymore.

Young millennials are not arrogant; but they are disruptive!

I would love to engage with you on this. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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