Stockton Rush
Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate exhibitions, poses at Times Square in New York. IBTimes UK

Stockton Rush is famously quoted for saying, "I think it was General MacArthur who said, 'You're remembered for the rules you break'", as he attempted to defy nature and common sense, brainwash those who were in doubt, and punish those who spoke out, in his quest to be the unforgettable rule-breaker.

Well, he surely achieved just that.

But this tragic story in which the whole world watched and was intensely involved serves as a warning and reminder to senior leaders to listen to their teams, listen to their customers, and harness their collective knowledge.

Rush not only broke scientific rules and unmistakeable red flags while on previous expeditions to the Titanic, but he also fired members of staff who dared to oppose his ideas and raise the alarm, including David Lochridge (previous finance director) who sued Rush's company OceanGate afterwards.

While this is, of course, an extremely high-profile and well-publicized example, there are countless other instances of leaders refusing to take on considerations or concerns from employees because they didn't think these concerns mattered.

The underlying principle here is that of emotional intelligence, and more directly, communication skills.

Solid technical skills and knowledge, college degrees, or a prestigious family line can never compensate for trustworthy and transparent communication, active listening, and genuine consideration and evaluation of feedback from employees, positive or negative.

How comfortable do your team members feel about sharing what may be perceived as weaknesses or negative feedback with you?

Can they be honest and real with you, or are they always singing your praises?

A company where all team members are saying nothing but positivity about the leadership is a huge red flag, and not one to aspire to, because it usually indicates an underpinning problem, being fearful of speaking out and being honest. It indicates that many practices and policies are shoved under the carpet and tolerated for fear of endangering the company or high-profile leadership representation.

The latest data about attitudes towards communication skills in the workplace uncover some startling statistics.

According to the Grammarly-sponsored State of Business Communication 2023 report, it emerged that 68 per cent of business leaders who lost deals due to miscommunication estimate that it has cost them $10 thousand or more, and 13 per cent estimate that it has cost them $50 thousand or more.

Research from Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report revealed that disengaged employees cost the world an astounding $8.8 trillion in lost productivity.

Furthermore, according to Expert Market, 86 per cent of employees and execs cite a lack of communication skills as the main reason for workplace failures.

Is it any wonder then, that one of OceanGate's clients who demanded a refund for a trip aboard the Titan submersible, but was refused, should sue the company as well?

An essential tool of effective communication is active listening. This is critical to business growth and success, whether liaising with staff or customers. Active listening is an intentional type of communication that involves being keenly sensitive to the needs and underlying messages being conveyed, by the speaker.

Some ways to incorporate active listening into your leadership toolkit involve:

  • Understanding the subtle underlying messages behind what your employees/customers are physically saying.
  • Reading non-verbal cues that give an indication as to how that person is feeling.
  • Being open-minded and taking active and highly visible steps such as a policy creation to welcome and empower constructive feedback.

For example, you can include questions on a performance review/appraisal document such as:

  • What is one thing you would like your manager to do differently?
  • What is one problem you would like the management team to direct their attention to?
  • How do you feel about your relationship with your manager?

Listen to genuinely listen, not listen to get your point across. In the case of Stockton Rush, he physically listened, but defied all logic and ignored people's feelings and concerns.

True leadership is all about leading with empathy, compassion, and genuine concern for the well-being of your team and customers.

Listen to your team – I promise if you don't, a competitor will. And the damage to your reputation can, in most cases, be irreparable.