Can Your Crew Trust Your Judgement As Their Skipper?

In the adage that actions speak louder than words – how well you listen tells your team far more about you than all the words and presentations under the sun.

We’ve previously discussed how failing to listen and speaking to the wall is a key warning sign of why leaders fail.

This was reinforced in some gems that former SAS Major, Floyd Woodrow, MBE, shared with business leaders and fellow speaker Simon Hartley of Be World Class over dinner hosted by BiY.

As an experienced performance coach, boosting the profitability and effectiveness of owner managed and family run businesses, I was fascinated by Floyd’s insights on what differentiates truly great leaders; what sets them apart and how they get the best out of their teams.

His experiences included how small and subtle changes in leadership make a huge difference to an operation’s success and reminded me of a gripping experience in leadership, teams and preparation that a senior executive shared with my What If? Forum members about the Clipper round the world sailing challenge.

Before embarking on this formidable adventure, the amateur and novice deep water sailors underwent serious training; especially those sailing the southern ocean leg – down towards Antarctica.

The executive’s crew and the crew of another boat prepared for this leg completely differently. The other boat’s crew headed for the Solent and western English Channel to practice sail changes until they could almost do it with their eyes closed. Their rationale was that confidence in each other’s ability was crucial for keeping the boat moving in the anticipated unpredictable weather conditions of the southern ocean.

In total contrast, the executive’s crew spent two days in a lonely croft in the Highlands of Scotland discussing the challenges they would encounter in the southern ocean, how they would deal with them – and what they would do to minimise their eventuality. Everything hinged on how far south they sailed – because the further south they went, the quicker their passage to western Australia but the greater the risk of encountering icebergs and a possible Titanic experience with little hope of rescue or survival.

After opening the discussion, the captain listened intently as his crew debated their options, individual fears and criteria to reach a decision about how far south to venture. Under his careful facilitation they made a decision that everyone bought into – in the knowledge that everyone’s life depended on it. Once agreed it was never spoken of again, not even when setting course out of Cape Town bound for Western Australia.

Because their captain had listened to his team they trusted him and his judgement implicitly, emerged from the experience safely – and captured a few vital places in the race. The crew that had gone sailing instead of talking lost ground as bitter disputes raged amongst the members as conditions deteriorated far worse than they had expected.

How well do your team know you – and what lessons have you learned from listening to them? Share them with us below or contact me via, @RichardWhatIf on Twitter, Richard Bosworth on LinkedIn or post on

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