As I contemplate my next 1,500-mile ocean passage on our sailboat from the Caribbean to New York in May, I reflect on my role as a Captain providing leadership. That means doing difficult tasks to ensure the boat is prepared, making tough decisions on crew placement and training, keeping a watchful eye on weather conditions and staying put when other boats are leaving port, ensuring all safety procedures are followed while underway and providing clear and concise communications to explain why we’re changing course when needed. It also means showing a brave game face to calm fears when the going gets rough, getting crew input on major decisions and admitting my own mistakes so the crew can learn from me and know that I have learned something too. And, I’m happy to give credit to the crew for all we achieve in making these passages. While I won’t opine on my own leadership skills as a Captain, I am proud to have so many repeat crew that will go back in the ocean with me again and again. I attribute that to my genuine concern for their well being which is also a key attribute of a good management leader.
Captains in industry are CEOs and department heads or team leaders. Their brave leadership is key to any Business Performance Improvement (BPI) or Turnaround Management effort. You can’t “improve” a company without introducing change. Change, no matter how small, requires brave leadership. People simply won’t change strategies, organizational behaviors, business processes or information technologies without brave leadership. The single most important leadership attribute is to have genuine concern for the team’s wellbeing and success. If team members feel your concern, know you will make tough decisions on their behalf, that you’ll solicit their input, communicate why change is necessary for their well being while admitting your own mistakes and giving them all the credit, they are highly likely to support your efforts for change. They will pull together as a team to support a leader they trust.
So, the next time you’re managing a difficult BPI or Turnaround Management initiative, role play that you’re a Captain on a small sailboat in the ocean. You’re going to be at sea for, say, two weeks with your crew. You have some tough BPI or Turnaround Management decisions you have to make for the good of the whole company. Your life and the wellbeing of your crew may very well depend on their supporting your decisions. Bring them along and convince them of your concern for them, get their input on major decisions and support them each nautical mile along the way. Communicate course corrections, admit your mistakes and give team credit where due. You’ll be quite pleased on how much support you’ll receive in return for your brave leadership and how your initiatives for change will succeed.
We’re available to help you with brave project leadership on BPI or Turnaround Management projects. We also facilitate customized one-day, on-site and entertaining Business Performance Improvement workshops to help management teams identify and prioritize new BPI initiatives. Feel free to call us to discuss how we could help you.
Captain Richard T. Azar