Leadership: To Captain One’s Vessel

Leadership: To Captain One’s Vessel

When I took the job as the president and CEO of the Nevada Donor Network (NDN), I knew that I was signing up to lead an organization in crisis. NDN was one of the absolute worst-performing organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the country and was at risk of shutdown if things didn’t turn around, and fast!

While I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, I was prepared to take on the challenge. I was ready to captain NDN and correct its course, and I was excited for the opportunity to lead an entire organization, no matter its current state of affairs. When I stepped into this role, I was able to apply some of the lessons I’d learned during my time on the water.

The Fledgling Captain. My interest in boats and sailing began at a very young age. I’ve always been interested in the sea and longed to captain a vessel of my own. By the time I was in college, I’d saved up and (with a little help from my father) was able to purchase my very own boat. Although it was modest, I thought of that boat as my ship and I, its captain. It’s also where I learned some of my first important leadership lessons that I still carry with me to this day.

My crew consisted of myself and my siblings. As the captain, I felt the need to do all there was to do on the boat. When the work proved too much, I barked orders and tried to ensure that everyone else was doing things my way, or in my mind, “the right way.” This led to exhaustion on my part and generally unpleasant dynamics with the rest of the sibling crew.

My controlling attitude and micromanaging tendencies presented themselves as a problem quickly. This is the era of my life when I learned the critical nature of delegation. It’s also where I first began developing the skill of being able to communicate what needed to get done with others while still giving them the autonomy to hone their skills and make mistakes.

Skills of a Master Captain. It’s in my nature to want to be the best that I can be at anything I do. After boating for many years, I made the decision to get my USCG Master Captain’s license. This is a difficult license to obtain and is usually held by captains of large vessels. Just like the seafaring days of my youth, studying for my Master Captain’s license taught me a whole new set of leadership skills.

Let’s talk about the term “true north.” When you’re at sea without any landmarks, it’s easy to lose your sense of direction and drift off course. The same goes for leading an organization; it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day and stray, sometimes unknowingly, from the vision that’s been set for the company. Both captains and leaders must always be tracking their current position in relation to “true north,” whether that’s a cardinal direction or the direction of the business. This is the only way to know for sure that your course is steadfast.

There are more risks than just that of losing directional focus. Every leader will eventually have to deal with a crisis. Outside forces, internal issues, or any other circumstance, whether predicted or unforeseen, all have the potential to derail a leader’s work and affect intended outcomes.

Just like a boat captain must stay vigilant about rough seas, mechanical failures, etc., leaders must always be on the lookout for potential risks and adjust to them as they arrive. A proactive approach is the best way to safeguard a voyage, whether at sea or in an organization.

First Featured on Forbes.com