Lead (and Listen to) Your Crew Like a Pirate Captain

Wouldn’t it be better if leadership was maybe just a little more democratic? Yes, yes it would. The opposite situation happens all the time in movies: a boss/leader faces a decision that will affect the company/the local area/the world. Our every-guy hero has valuable expert information on the subject, but the boss/leader won’t listen to anyone outside of the boardroom/government, makes the wrong decision, and puts the company/local area/world in danger. (News flash: it happens in real life all the time, too.)

"A board member with no useful information? I'll listen only to you."
“A board member with no useful information? I’ll listen only to you.”

There was a time, when our grandparents (and great-grandparents) worked in factories, that leadership meant making sure work got done because people showed up and pushed buttons or moved levers on time. But while jobs and employees have changed, many leaders haven’t. They follow outdated management models, which tend to ignore important factors when it comes to authority. (They only consider the first three of French & Raven’s Forms of Power.)

Outdated?  We've done it this way for 100 years.
We’ve done it this way for 100 years.

That kind of leadership would not have been tolerated on a pirate ship. Captains were subject to mutiny if there were unfair conditions on board, if the captain performed his duties poorly. Captains were experts in their position, and expected the rest of the crew to be experts in their own roles. A successful pirate captain wouldn’t hesitate to ask for expert input, and was respected because he knew how to balance democracy with authority. Practicality meant he couldn’t be a control-freak, and the crew wouldn’t tolerate power-hungry behavior. (And yes, power definitely changes people.) So successful pirate leaders tended to be fair.

Not that kind of fair.
Not that kind of fair.

In fact, pirate captains were so dependent on a solid crew, they invested in training for novices. While cabin boys spent a bit of time scrubbing chamber pots or peeling potatoes, they also learned navigation, tailoring, carpentry, rope repair, fighting skills, weather observation and prediction, and whatever else might be useful. As we’ve re-discovered in the last few years, ideal leadership actually means building a skilled team. (More on that next time.)

A good captain has a successful crew because they’re trusted to know what they’re doing.

It seems that the smaller the business, the greater the challenge for the leader to listen and trust the team. It’s natural – fewer people mean greater responsibility! But even micro-businesses need fair leadership. Otherwise, just like a mean-girl clique, the queen-bee will find herself replaced overnight. But this doesn’t excuse poor leadership in large corporations – workers can’t easily replace leaders, but leaders can’t easily replace entire teams who leave to go where their talents are appreciated!

The expression about rats leaving a sinking ship? Truth: they leave because it's in trouble.
The expression about rats leaving a sinking ship? Truth: they leave because it’s in trouble.

But speaking of things that are appreciated…I want to mention your shares and comments! Somewhere among your followers is someone who would benefit from this post. Somewhere, one of your Facebook friends is losing hope. Share, for their sake. And if you have an experience of a leader going down (or at least being embarrassed) for failing to listen, please tell your tale – everyone loves justice!

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Location Maricopa, AZ E-mail Adina@adinawollam.com Hours Monday - Saturday 10am - 4pm MST
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