When it comes to the formation of a team, there’s firstly a consensus among top sailing leaders that each potential team member must be assessed on both their skills and expertise and the compatibility of their values. ‘It doesn’t matter how talented you are,’ says America’s Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill. ‘If you have an ego or bad attitude, you have no place in a successful team.’
As in the business world, it is apparent that on the water there is no single universally successful approach to leadership, with many of the most effective sailing leaders able to change their style to suit the situation at hand. Clipper Race skipper Wendy Tuck describes different crew members responding differently to different styles and explorer Tim Jarvis suggests that leadership really should be situational.
Like trust, good communication is well credited for the success of countless teams. However, communication is also an unhelpfully broad and vague concept, so this blog will drill down into a more directly applicable style of communication that’s been used to great effect by successful sailing skippers.
Sailing, whether for survival or competition, is an unforgiving business. Confined in close quarters, crew members are utterly reliant on each other, and a heavy weight of responsibility falls on the skipper’s shoulders. The teams that excel in such environments provide a multitude of learnings for leaders back on dry land. So through this blog series, I’ve set out to explore some of the most important and universally applicable leadership lessons from the oceans.
The isolation and sometimes extreme conditions on boats create a unique environment for teams. The many different roles, short bursts of action, long periods of inaction and the challenge of communicating over the noise of the wind require a skilled leader to keep a team on course. Historically, and to this day, skippers and captains are often held in great admiration at the yacht club bar or on a national scale. But, of course, no two captains are alike so I took a look at the different leadership styles you’re likely to see used by those behind the helm.