I love the ocean. The sight and sound of the crashing waves. The abundance of wildlife. The swimming. Cool temperatures. The beach is an idealistic place for me. While sailing the other week, I really gained some perspective. I felt small. We encountered some whales migrating during the warmer months, and as they dwarfed our boat. They were massive, and had they wanted to, they could have easily capsized the boat. Then there were the birds. Thousands of them swirling around us. The water became foamy from their flapping wings and the noise they made drowned out everything else. We had to shout to hear each other. As if that weren’t enough, we also made it out into open water. Pretty soon, we were alone in our boat. The vastness of the ocean in every direction…and us. While drifting in the open chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean, I reflected on leadership, direction, and purpose.
1.) Adjust your sails. There is an old proverb that says, “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” We had to constantly adjust our sails and rudder to get where we wanted to go. If we were didn’t, we were at the mercy of the wind and where it wanted to blow us. If we paid attention however, we could easily maneuver our ship and move with direction and purpose.
Leading well is similar. Life happens in the midst of our best laid plans and ideas. It is our ability to adjust our sails and maneuver with purpose that determines if we end up where we’d like to get. If we aren’t careful, we’ll be adrift in the vast ocean of life, without any real purpose, direction, or passion. If we let life’s circumstances blow us wherever they want, we will never be fully happy or satisfied with where we are.
2.) Useless lingo. I’m thankful that day for the captain (and brother-in-law) who not only told me what to do, but explained the lingo as we went. If he would have just shouted at me to loosen the starboard mast line by the aft…well…I’m not sure what I would have done, but I can guarantee you it wouldn’t have been the right thing. Instead, while we were in calm waters, he explained all the relevant terminology, how do to the jobs he was asking me to do, and then trusted me to accomplish them (with some additional guidance and insight along the way).
Great leadership includes people. I remember reading a report from a company explaining what they were searching for. They felt stuck in their direction and offered a report that explained how and why they were lost. Their letter was full of useless information. There request was for, “A TCP to provide the CBL with an HRB before the annual report of AXF. It should also include a stylistic RLI to seal the deal.” I quickly saw why they needed a business consultant. No one understood their lingo, and if you know what the letters stood for, I’m guess it was still pretty useless information. If we as leaders can’t clearly articulate and explain where we are, where we’re headed, and what it will take to get there, no one is going to buy into the vision. Don’t suffer from useless lingo, instead explain, demonstrate, and equip others to carry forward the tasks at hand.
3.) Real movement happens away from the shore. While near the dock, we didn’t move very fast. There was no current, the wind speed was minimal, and if it weren’t for the motor, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Sailboats are not meant to stay close to shore. They are designed to be in the open expanses of water, catch the wind, and explore.
Leadership also needs to come with the intentionality of freedom and exploration. If we keep people too close to the shore and never let them set sail, we will never develop new leaders. If I had been told all the lingo on the beach, and then never allowed into the boat, I would’ve never learned how to sail. We as leaders must learn to teach and instruct, but also to empower and equip. New leaders must be given chances to explore, lead, make mistakes, and ultimately grow in their capacities. Real leadership never happens on the shore, it happens in the open water.
What do you think? What are some of your key leadership ideas?