Many Pies

Many Pies

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Management lessons from powerboating


Ariel view of a powerboat driving away from a partly submerged rock formation
I recently filled in my quarterly review form. One of the questions was "Outside of your work context, what opportunities do you have to learn and to grow? How do these influence you when you are at work?" (OK two questions.)

I answered that I'd done a powerboating course, but this had no influence on my work. I've submitted my review now, but I realise that I was wrong.

One of the exercises we did was to go and retrieve a boat moored to a pontoon out in the lake where I was being trained. I was at the helm and we drove by it and the crew didn't take the action I'd expected. The fault was in my communication - I hadn't communicated clearly what I'd expected them to do, just suggested what could happen.

On a boat whoever is at the helm has the responsibility for steering it, but also getting the crew to do whatever is necessary to implement whatever manouvre is in progress. It's very much a positional responsibility - if you've got the steering wheel (or tiller) in your hand, then you're in charge at that time. During our training the instructors and my fellow trainees took in turn to take the helm. Experience or seniority didn't count for so much - though we were listening to the advice of the instructor!

In work, leadership and management isn't so flexible. There are roles, and organisation structure, and levels of authority. However, in any given situation it may be clear who is in charge, regardless of structures, and that person needs to take the helm and lead.