THE ART OF SAILING: My Lesson in Leadership

As summer has turned into fall, and I reflect on my many adventures of the sailing season, it occurs to me that my desire to succeed in business and my interest in sailing are intertwined and indeed based on a few common principles.

As a leader, we must be able to listen and be aware of our surroundings. We must understand not only what we see, but also what we don’t see, and when the wind changes we must adjust course or tack. It is said that the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, however it is the realist that will adjust his sails…  We must also be confident in not only ourselves but have an unwavering confidence in those around us. A good leader knows how to empower others, and trust in direct reports. Sailing with a team magnifies this concept especially when things get dicey. Leaders need to navigate the quagmire of difficult decisions and be able to make those that benefit the company, employees, and other stakeholders.  

Many books have been written on this subject, and there are many references made to sailing, or nautical terms not only in leadership matters, but also in everyday life…One of my favorite books, “Sailor in the White House” by Robert Cross draws these parallels regarding one of the toughest leadership challenges and jobs anywhere. Cross succinctly describes the qualities he perceives to be necessary at sea: “the necessity to learn how to ‘change tack’ and be versatile in the face of changing weather, the need to understand the tradeoffs and consequences of compromise, the requirement for an explicit chain of command and leadership aboard any vessel at sea, the desirability of confidence in choices and decisions made at sea, the influence good cheer can have on team work, and the ability to withstand and endure bad weather, storms, and discomfort – sometimes outright pain…”

While the art of sailing is “to leave nothing to chance” we have used this concept in our business to help navigate the most trying of economic times by being ready and in the present to challenge conventional wisdom, and even prosper while others rely on outdated methods.

What I find especially intriguing and comforting in my sailing adventures is that when all is trimmed correctly, and everything is going in just the right direction, an eerie silence takes over. It is at the same time exciting and terrifying. One of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes actually captures this concept when he says “The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.”

As we have expressed our views on the current crisis of confidence, it is important that we remain focused on those things that we can control, and relentlessly trim our sails to the best position possible, constantly keeping our eye out for any opportunity that may present itself. After all, while ships are safest in the harbor, that is not what they were designed for…

“Sailors, with their built in sense of order, service and discipline, should really be running the world.” Nicholas Monsarrat

One Response to “THE ART OF SAILING: My Lesson in Leadership”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great Blog! Very well written!

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