This month we have been fortunate to have been sailing off the West coast of Scotland between the Inner Hebrides in fantastic sunshine and snow showers.  Diane and I have sailed together many times in many locations and it feels
like we are still re-learning the basics. What struck me on this trip was the number of variables and changes that happen every day to be dealt with, just like leading a business and team.  I hope my 10 learnings below will make you smile!

Our journey home from Tobermory back to our mooring was memorable.  We studied the charts and sorted out the navigational issues (on the West coast there are a lot of outcrops of rocks and whirlpools to contend with).  I plotted our intended course with approximate times to arrive at each reference point.  We studied the tide times and tidal flow (on the West coast of Scotland the tide can go faster than a sailing boat – in the opposite direction, pushing you backwards!).  We listened to the radio for the weather forecast and downloaded the up to date local weather forecast when we had Wi-Fi.  With all this planning things still changed with amazing variance and speed.

On our journey past Oban the wind changed direction and along the whole journey changed through 360 degrees.  The wind had gone from 40 knots to 5 knots in the space of half a day and neither was forecast.  We continually adjusted the sails to compensate for the changes and made amendments to our direction to catch the wind so it would help our journey – even if we did have to zigzag into the wind to get there.

Technically when we are sailing I am the Skipper and Diane usually steers the boat.  Diane is just as competent sailor as I am.  Therefore Diane can feed me with information, updates and suggestions to adjust and adapt to the changing situation.  I had miscalculated the tide times by an hour and importantly the speed of the tidal flow too.   The stronger than anticipated tides pushed our boat at a tangent to our destination.  Diane was monitoring our course and told me how far and how fast we had changed so I could re-calculate the changes in direction.

On the final leg of the journey we had a problem with the steering going through one of the biggest sea whirlpools in the world.  I left Diane steering as best as possible and I went down below in to the steering bilge to discover a steering cable had come off.  Some quick repair work and communicating adjustments with Diane and it was repaired – to our joint relief!

We did get home safely – slower than originally planned, with humility and more learning about my mistakes and how to improve next time.  Learning and developing our sailing skills is a life long journey, just as in leadership.  What did I learn and re-learn about Leadership and myself?

  1. Have a goal in mind (destination) – challenging yet achievable in the prevailing situation and appropriate to your team
  2. Planning always helps and it’s only that, a plan, change happens – get used to it!  Apparently when they send a rocket to the moon they send the rocket at the right time, in the right direction and keep tweaking its direction on the journey to eventually accurately hit the target.  As so many un-predicted changes happen they have to continually adjust in order to get to the target
  3. Use the changes to help get to your destination – even though at times it might feel like going backwards.  You can always zigzag forwards
  4. Talk to the team – they usually know what’s going on in their area of responsibility better than I do, listen and take in the information
  5. Monitor and keep monitoring progress.  Keep tweaking and adjusting to the on-going situation with your destination in mind
  6. Tell the team what’s happening and why – over communication is better than not enough
  7. Change can develop a sense of ‘overwhelm’, find a soul mate to talk to and support you to identify the key issues, talking does help
  8. Focus energy on what you can change rather than focusing energy on what you can’t change.  (I couldn’t change the weather or the tide, I could change our direction, speed and repair the steering)
  9. It’s amazing what you can do!

Lots of cups of tea always help!  Keep smiling – (being grumpy about things I can’t change doesn’t help!)