The Captain’s Call

A term that in the last week has suddenly come to the fore front. No doubt though, when most people think of the term “Captain’s Call” they will relate it to a sports usage whereby it commonly refers to the right of the Captain of a team to have the final say. Regrettably that is unfortunate because in sport you are generally dealing with a competitive embrace between two teams of equal size, on a controlled playing field, with one set of rules for everyone, and a policeman (referee) to ensure the rules are followed. The real world is very different.

The concept itself goes well back to the earliest days of shipping when the ship would be farewelled by its owners with the hope that it would make money and one day return to do it all again. As it can be seen, this is simply business in one of its earliest forms. The Captain was responsible for the ship and if it was damaged, lost its cargo, was robbed or whatever, it was the Captains fault; not the crew’s as a whole, but the Captain’s personally. In many ways this is still the case as the Captain of a ship will almost always be held solely responsible for the actions of his crew.

The key thing though is what actually is “the Captain’s Call” and, more importantly, exactly how solo is it. In business we have seen many captains of industry, such as the Packers, Murdock’s and others that have almost single-handedly managed major corporations using shareholders to fund their ventures ultimately with control passing within family hands. We have also seen others such as Bond, Skase, etc who were held in the same high esteem, regrettably for them though, for a much shorter period of time.

Back however to the issue at hand. A good Captain will always seek the solace of those senior and closest to him; in times of real crisis one hopes though that they are not all simply “yes-men.” Alternatively the Captain may also choose those that he knows have some specialist knowledge or expertise that relates to the issue at hand. Correspondingly the Captain may opt for members of both of these groups, thus providing the broadest possible input. It does not matter that, either in groups or individually, these advisors differ, it is that they have some form of input be it constructive or otherwise that the Captain may consider in his or her deliberations.

The fact that a Captain’s Call is made is usually an indicator of one of two key factors, firstly that time is short and that which is available is insufficient to have the usual decision process work, or in the alternative there is a difference of opinion between those responsible for the decision process and it becomes the Captain’s responsibility to select the actual course of action that will be taken.

The Captain’s Call is a powerful tool in business and I have often mused when in my various walks of life I have had performance reviews given to me with the words in it “is not afraid to make a decision”; to me it reflects that this is therefore considered the exception rather than the norm.

In business, the ability to assimilate knowledge from your advisors and staff quickly and make a constructive decision quickly, is what puts the successors in front, and those that can’t behind. It is also the thing that will keep a salvageable business alive and capable of returning to growth.

Alas however, a bad call can bring disaster!