Sailing and Leadership Lessons: Part 2 - Novacrea Research
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Sailing and Leadership Lessons: Part 2

Sailing in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Galileo55 on Flickr Creative Common

Last week, we discussed the importance of making micro-adjustments at the helm, sailing in the wind, and changing target if we want to continue sailing in the wind to reach our destination. Read Sailing and Leadership Lessons: Part 1.

This week, we’ll examine two additional leadership lessons gleaned from my sailing trip with my friend Rob.

If you want to change direction, you have to make sure both crew members manning the ropes on the port and starboard are ready before making a sweeping change.

Rob taught us how to release and tighten the ropes on the jib so that we could change direction, also known as tacking, in sailing lingo. His instructions were very clear:

Before you change direction, you’ll need to ask your crew “ready to tack?”

Then you’ll need to hear two readies before you turn the wheel.

And just before you turn, you need to shout out “tacking” so that the crew knows what to do when the time is right.

This was communication at its best: clear, precise, and constant feedback.

Likewise, when you need to change the direction of your organization, plan to over communicate with your employees and stakeholders. I recognize that it’s challenging to communicate regularly amid many changes. But your employees need to know where the company is headed and how their jobs are impacted.

In addition, as a leader, you need to know that your employees are ready for this transition. How prepared are they for this change? Do they need to learn new skills? Do you need to rearrange your team composition? Do you need to buy or grow talent? If your employees are not ready to support you on this change, your turn will not be successful. You may be making circles on the same spot for a while before regaining your direction.

That’s what we did on the ship at one point when we could not agree which way to turn, and ended up making circles in the water!

Keep an eye out for your crew, take the lead, and thank them when you are safely home.
We had a wonderful time sailing into the city. We watched the sunset on the open water and enjoyed the city lights. And then it was dark.

We turned around, took the sails down, and headed home. But it was difficult to find the green light that signaled the entry to the Yacht Club. Rob stood on the bow, like a true skipper, looking for the green light to guide us home. He finally found it and pointed it out to us. Rob guided her safely back to the dock, we jumped out of the ship and bid goodbye.

What would you do as a leader when it’s dark outside? Will you have the courage to stand on the bow and look for the light to guide your team home? Leaders lead. That means sometimes you’ll have to explore new ground, search for the light, and take risk to guide your crew home.

When you and your team have achieved a goal, thank them and celebrate! Champagne is optional.

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