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Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.

When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch

Sailing for most is a team sport, and that’s the attraction; sharing in the experience and having a collective sense of achievement. My sailing career encompasses 200,000 Nautical Miles as a Yacht Captain, but when I think back, my most vivid memories are when as a crew, we pulled together and worked as a team.

It was the human interaction that resonated the most, a shared mental model backed up with meaningful actions often against the odds.

Perhaps what contributed most to these life experiences can be defined as follows:


We are not all the same, fortunately. The key to understanding and relating to others is one of self-awareness. Once you understand how you tick, what motivates and frustrates, where you sit on the spectrum, you can learn how others perceive the world and develop strategies to get the best from them.

Self-awareness takes time and is beyond what I wish to write about here, however it is a journey well worth following if you have the time.

When a situation changes, having the capacity to change your style of leadership can be beneficial. Moving from a laissez-faire towards a more bureaucratic and autocratic style can help achieve results that require immediate action to be completed without error. This dynamic form of leadership may feel uncomfortable when it is at odds with your preferred natural style.

Team dynamics can also change as we become more accustomed to working with each other. New teams may require more direction and structure together with some degree of conflict resolution. Within established teams, motivation and leadership looks different and behaves organically. Authority can become advice and even crisis situations can become collaborative efforts.


Briefing: when a task can be discussed in an environment where questions can be asked and clarification sought, understanding is greatest. This is the time to set expectations and give ownership where necessary.

Sharing the mental model: we use this concept on the rescue helicopter and it is effective both in the air and when treating a patient. When becoming task focused your vision becomes tunnelled. When this happens, you start missing external cues and excluding team members, which is bad. Bringing others back into the loop and widening your information gathering senses, increases performance and outcomes.

Standard phrases: this helps avoid ambiguity and can be reinforced when instructions are repeated back to you. This technique is effective in high risk environments and air traffic controllers use this to ensure pilots have understood a set of instructions (closed loop communication).

Debrief: often overlooked or used as an opportunity to dodge or appoint blame, ultimately missing the chance to learn. If video footage is available, then whilst this may seem confronting, it provides a clear picture as to what happened and can fill-in any memory blanks.


“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

This is personal. It has to be. It is likely that you have been onboard a boat and it just felt “right”, you may be unsure why, but the chances are that someone made it that way.

It may have been an uneventful passage in perfect weather, or you may have been battling a series of challenges for the entire journey. Something about that trip lead you to believe that all was well in the universe and that you were in safe hands.

You may have been the Captain, you may have been crew, either way, I would suggest you will remember these when you “swing the lantern, pull up a sand bag and tell a story” as an old friend of mine would often say.

Kia Kaha

Rich Selby

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