As with all things Hollywood, pirates and the high seas just drips of glamor and adventure. It is the stuff of epic tales of daring do immortalized by the likes of Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp. Certainly there is an element of crime and punishment, of death and destruction, of cruelty and pain, but that stuff sort of gets lost in the Hollywood hype. The modern pirates of Somalia remind us of what desperate people do in desperate times – it is neither glamorous nor dashing. It is crime and death in its starkest form. It is also becoming a lesson in what can happen when the process becomes too hard, even for “the good guys”.
Ever so quietly over the last two weeks a story has gradually been told of a hijacked Russian cargo ship and the fate that befell the captured pirates. In short, the Russian Navy was able to retake the ship, free the crew, and capture ten of the pirates. It was a fairly cut and dry scenario – the Somalis took the ship and the Russians took it back – the pirates surrendering following a brief fight on the cargo ship. However, it is what happened afterwards that was rather interesting. It seems the Russians elected to set the pirates “free”. Free, adrift in a boat at sea. It is an age-old punishment for pirates and mutineers being set adrift, and apparently something that has comeback into vogue when dealing with modern pirates by more than just the Russian Navy.
Was it the right thing to do – not my call. Was it the correct or proper process for dealing with captured pirates – apparently not. However, is there a reason it has become more common – clearly so. Right or wrong, the “process” when it comes to dealing with captured pirates has become too hard . The system is broken. Those out dealing with the day-to-day realities have been forced to make decisions. Harsh decisions that are none the less real solutions to real problems. Simple, effective, and permanent.
As leaders it is imperative that we ensure the process never becomes too hard, or is perceived to be too hard, or is just simply broken. Calling a process fair, right or “just the way we do things” does not mean the process is working. Efficient and functional processes are the key points for leaders. Best intentions are not a viable justification for dysfunction. Putting people in a position where they must make decisions that are based on unrealistic expectations, or asking them to work within a system that is dysfunctional benefits no one. It is not only unfair, it is a recipe for poor morale. Eventually events and circumstance will force people to take matters into their own hands. Ultimately it will become an environment in which no one wins.