Leadership: The Captain’s Way

July 20, 2019
Posted in Leadership
July 20, 2019 Brandt Beal

Leadership: The Captain’s Way

Today, business owners and managers are reading publications written by hundreds of industry leaders to obtain insight on developing and better implementing strong leadership within their own organizations. The books, articles and blogs are filled with New Age methods, tried and true approaches and lessons by example and experience. Almost all have a common denominator when identifying the behaviors of successful leaders: consistent communication of a concise, effective and important message to members of his or her organization.

I recently took a trip around the Greek islands on a small sailing ship. I couldn’t help but think about the perfection of our voyage and, more importantly, the leadership of our captain. On the first morning, I noticed the captain and his senior officers dining and conversing as a team. After the second morning, I started sitting next to them so I could listen in on their conversations. As I expected, the captain was engaged in one of the most important duties leaders have: communication. Even though the breakfast menu changed from morning to morning, the conversational format and familiar faces at this daily meeting remained constant.

What did they talk about every day?

  • What did we do well yesterday?
  • What could we have done better yesterday?
  • What did we not accomplish that we would have liked to?
  • What is going on today? Who is responsible and accountable?
  • What is most important today?
  • What distractions today might impact our guests’ experience?
  • What distractions today might impact our guests’ safety and security?

The captain consistently communicated the items that were primary to him, his guests, his crew and his employer. His top-down communication style and use of effective meetings provided clarity about what was vital to create a safe and memorable experience for the customers. At the close of each meeting, he would go around the table, ask for verbal confirmation of alignment with the goals and what each officer’s message would be to his individual crew members.

An example of the effectiveness of his leadership was evident late one evening when our tender boat lost power while leaving the port to return to our ship. We were left unseen and adrift in a busy harbor at night. The situation quickly became dangerous, but the emergency procedures implemented by the captain’s crew were flawless. Within minutes, they had sent another boat to pick us up and return us to safety. It was obvious that this procedure had been taught and rehearsed. The crew had ultimate clarity on what needed to be accomplished and who was responsible for each detail.

I think many executives could learn from the captain’s simple, straight-forward communication skills: Communicate frequently; Communicate consistently; Gain alignment and understanding.