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Leadership Nudge® 313 – The Vasa Story

Back before the coronavirus shut down travel, I was in Stockholm for an event and I was able to visit the Vasa museum. This is an amazing story of a warship that sank on its maiden voyage 350 years ago. Even though that seems like a long time ago, the lessons are still highly applicable today.

People are afraid to speak truth to power and we see it all the time. Steep power gradients inhibit information flow. This inhibition to tell the people in power what is really going on — the bad news — even has a name, it’s called the Vasa Syndrome.

The antidote to this is the CONNECT play. When we flatten the Power Gradient, we create a culture where it is safe for everyone to share ideas, ask questions, and voice concerns.

Learn more by reading this blog post: The First Law of Hierarchies


I’m here next to a 1/10th scale model of the mighty Swedish worship Vasa, built in the 1600s at the height of Swedish imperial power and meant to be a symbol of the strength of the country. The king, at this point, was on the other side of the Baltic Sea, already campaigning in wars or continuing to campaign in wars, anxious for the Vasa to be completed to bring him 300 soldiers which were coming to reinforce him. 

Back home the engineers were nervous about the seaworthiness of the ship, because they had made the decks higher than they normally would for ships like this to add more space. They shifted from 24 pounders and 12 pounders to 24 pounders and 24 pounders to give the ship more armament. 

Sure enough, when the ship got underway, she sailed less than a mile in about 20 minutes, fired her guns in salute then a puff of wind came, tipped her over, and she capsized in Stockholm Harbor where she rested for 300 years.  Here’s the actual ship behind me. She was found, resurrected and is at rest in a museum in Stockholm. 

Now there’s a thing called the Vasa syndrome. It’s the syndrome where people are afraid to speak truth to power and we see it all the time. You’ve probably seen it. Deepwater Horizon. The Challenger disaster. So my nudge is this, create a culture where it’s safe to speak truth to power. Avoid the fate of the great Vasa.



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