By Jeremy Thorn
I went sailing on a friend’s wonderful sea-going boat recently, up a tidal river and then through a number of quite awkward canal locks. As a very ignorant and slightly concerned rookie crewman, knowing nothing about boating and with a long-standing aversion to getting both cold and wet, I was amazed at how much I learned from the experience. Not so much about managing a boat, but a lot about leadership.
The first thing I realised was that the very experienced owner of the boat had no idea of the genuine depth of my ignorance. I think he assumed I must know what he has clearly known since he was a small boy.
So Lesson Number One was: Never assume your colleagues know what you think of as being self-evident. This is always well worth checking out, at regular intervals.
Lesson Number Two, wise after the event, was: Time spent practising essential drills and procedures before even setting off, is a very sound investment. Rather like flying a plane I expect, where it strikes me there is nothing much for the crew to do between taking off and landing, it occurred to me that casting a boat off and then mooring safely are rather mission-critical team activities, much more difficult than they look, and best not practised for the first time in challenging conditions - for example, with an adverse tide and a very strong wind as we did. In retrospect, I would have been far better advised to learn a little about knots, winds and tides before sailing away. (That might well have saved us all leaving part of the boat’s prow and a forward cleat firmly attached to the jetty, as the wind caught us as we unexpectedly set off before both mooring ropes were untied!)
Lesson Number Three was: It is vital to share your thoughts and intentions with your crew. This is not only to keep up others’ enthusiasm (hence the expression, ‘keeping your team on board’ perhaps!), nor just to help others ‘learn the ropes’, but also to make it quite clear how they can best help you.
All rather obvious lessons you might think? But if you have been used to running your own organisation for a long while, it is well worth reminding yourself what it is like for those who are not nearly as experienced and skilled as you!
My lessons didn’t stop there.
Lesson Number Four was: If the Captain does all the steering, he can’t do much else, in terms of managing and coordinating the crew, the boat and the rest. I think that’s quite a profound thought. The solution of course is to delegate much more, which makes for a much more rewarding experience for all, including the Captain.
My final lesson, Lesson Number 5, no doubt aided by the essential goodwill of almost all boaters it seem, was: Find out what lies ahead, from those who have just been there. Call it market intelligence? It is wonderful how many people are really very happy to help you with their knowledge, if you will but ask them. So not only did we find out about some great hostelries on our way up river, we also managed to avoid some huge chunks of submerged driftwood that might well otherwise have sunk us.
So I had a great trip, and some very helpful lessons to take back to work.
I hope you did too?
Jeremy Thorn is a Non-Executive Director/Board Advisor of several successful high-growth companies. Having first been the Managing Director of a large international engineering company, he set up and developed his own successful nationwide consultancy which he then sold to its management. An experienced executive coach and author of several prize-winning management books, he is a frequent workshop facilitator, speaker and writer for the Academy for Chief Executives and others. His passion is for developing successful organisations and their senior managers to achieve their full potential.
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