We all need to be reminded that we need to show people that they are valued in our organization. Sometimes we need a wake-up call to see how important it is to have people around us who really care about their craft at work. This lesson came on a sailing trip from St. Maarten to Grenada, but the principles remain the same in the boardroom or on the boat.
Alone after watch
I had finished my watch two hours ago. My first watch series on our trip from St Maarten to Grenada was the 9:00 pm to midnight, then back on at 6:00 am to 9:00 am. Our vessel was a 50- foot cruising catamaran (multi-hull sailboat) that was being moved to get it out of the hurricane zone for insurance purposes.
Having just had breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and ham, I kicked back on the windward side of the boat to relax on my off time. Had we been sailing a monohaul sailboat, I would be sitting on the “high side” with other crew members as the boat dug into the water, with one side of the boat almost in the water. A cruising catamaran is meant for stability, and we did not need to gather the crew on the windward side to balance out the boat. The rest of the crew that was not at the helm could relax and rest. For now, it was just me, the wind and the sea spray. All alone to reflect and realize the blessings of developing a crew.
Many people get their start in sailing by serving as “rail meat” which is a terse way to describe racers whose function is to serve solely as movable ballast. These team members move from one side of the boat to the other as the boat tacks through the wind and around the course markers. The only requirements for this position are the ability to listen well, learn well and move quickly and adroitly across the boat as she changes course. Since not everyone is ready to make a boat purchase, or has the goal of owning a boat, serving as “rail meat” allows new sailors to pay their dues in exchange or “pay” in the enjoyment of racing and learning. How the skipper engages the crew serving as movable ballast determines how long they stick with the sport or how far they advance in sailing.
The tale of two teams, or… the new boat vs. the old boat
When we do employee engagement excursions on the sailboats, we often tell the story of two race boats during our time together. It’s a simple but powerful story. You see, there once were two race boats that competed against each other. One boat was a modern racing boat that was sleek, light and had all the latest technology tools. The other boat was an older cruising boat that was broad and heavy. She had some technology, but her mass in the water was still what made her slower than the modern racing boat. But there was some equalization and the older slower boat was often the winning boat.
In sail racing, there is a handicap system that puts boats on a more even playing system. It’s like the system that is used in golf. After the handicap was applied, the old boat and the modern racing boat were closer competitors. On board the modern racing boat, crew members were belittled for lack of knowledge or ability. If something went wrong the captain and first mate accused and looked for fault instead of encouraging and sharing in the responsibility of team improvement. On board the old sailboat, there was a spirit of support, encouragement, growth and learning. The modern boat had a high turnover rate among their crew, the older boat retained and developed people. And the old boat won more races than the modern race boat. The lesson remains the same on the boat or in the boardroom. People want to feel supported, heard from, and encouraged to grow.
“Treat your crew with respect, show them the way, and watch them grow”
~ Captain Don Doggett
Thank you, Captain Don
Over the past few years of my sailing career, I have had the pleasure of partnering with our friends at True North Maritime Academy. They have transformed me from just being a competent sailor into being a Captain, who understands the boat’s systems and bigger picture of the boat upon the sea. It is through Captain Don Doggett’s leadership at True North that I have learned that beyond leading, the Captain’s job is to be respectful of his crew and encourage them to grow. It’s the same in the conference room too. A business owner or unit leader must foster a culture of support, encouragement, growth and learning. These are the hallmarks of highly engaging team.
It doesn’t matter if you are working with the entry level person in the company (similar to rail meat in racing) or a highly skilled knowledge worker, each person wants to feel valued and have the opportunity to grow. Take time to check in with them to see where they want to learn, grow and how they need feedback (feedback will be a topic we’ll get to next time). Make sure you share your vision and keep the spirit alive in the pursuit of the corporate vision as you communicate with your team. While being alone on the windward side of the boat or in a quiet office offers time for reflection and planning, being surrounded by an engaged team is where the excitement and action is.
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