For the past few years, I have been in a position of management at a fairly large organization. Not large like Microsoft or Coca Cola, but big enough to have taught me some really important things about management, leadership and life. The organization used to be a lot smaller – it has grown and I have grown with it. Over the years, I have had to adapt to the place getting bigger – more people, more complex provision of services, more departments, bigger buildings.
Here are some thoughts on the skills necessary to navigate the ship through the sometimes stormy waters, keeping the vessel and its crew safe and on course.
Realize you are the captain!
Here’s a wonderful story from Anthony de Mello’s amazing book, Awareness.
One morning, a gentleman knocks on his son’s door. “Jaime,” he says, “wake up!” Jaime answers, “I don’t want to get up, Papa.” The father shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school.” Jaime says, “I don’t want to go to school.” “Why not?” asks the father. “Three reasons,” says Jaime. “First, because it’s so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.” And the father says,”Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the headmaster!”
Apart from the comedy value of the unexpected ending, this story is so great because it is about waking up and realizing that you are in control. Your life is a ship and if you are not the captain, then who is? Do you think anyone else is going to chart your course and keep you on track? When we were kids, our parents might have done this for us – a lot of us have failed to realize that we’re not the kids anymore; we are the headmasters!
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes that ‘between stimulus and response there is a gap, and in this gap lies all our freedom.’ Frankl calls this being proactive, an idea which is the foundation of all personal development. If we fail to realize that we are in control of our own experience, then we cannot hope to guide our ship to safe harbor.
Make sure you know where the ship is going
So you’re the captain. You’re in control. But where are you going? Unless you have a plan, your ship will meander through the water, drifting along with no destination in mind. I am not suggesting that this is a bad thing in itself – it may be very pleasant to drift along and see where you end up. But most of us, sooner or later, come to the conclusion that we want to achieve something, and our goals are destinations that require a map, a compass and a set of navigational skills. Even a cruise liner has destinations in mind, though it deliberately takes a long time to get to them.
Surprisingly few people have given serious thought to where they are going in life. Of course, we all want to be ‘rich’ and ‘successful,’ but we need to be a bit more specific than that! We need a clear idea of where we are going. Of course, life is strange and unpredictable, and we may not end up where we originally intended to get to, but without an initial guide, where we end up will be largely a matter of chance. Strange attitude for a captain to take!
Keep the ship on a steady course
Since the ship has a destination, the simplest way to get there is to point in the right direction and then keep on going. If you’re at the helm, as we often hear managers say, all you need to do is to steer a steady course.
This assumes that the ship’s destination is known and that you are actually pointing towards that destination. Sometimes the ship will be knocked off course, perhaps by a strong wind or a storm. Maybe the ship will have to take a detour because of an iceberg or to avoid some other sort of collision. But the good captain will see these events coming and will maneuver the ship slowly, gradually changing its direction and steering around the obstacle without the passengers even noticing.
Sometimes the ship’s destination might change, in which case, once again, the good captain will prepare the new course and move the ship slowly until it points towards its new direction. Jerking the ship around will make everyone feel sick, put strain on the ship and undermine confidence in the captain. Slow and steady is the best thing!
Be ready for anything
Lao Tzu said, ‘Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.’
In management, as in life, change is the only constant. As the ship sails on, who knows what storms, what bad weather, what pirates will come along? We only know that tomorrow won’t be quite like today. The good captain understands this, prepares for every eventuality and does not bemoan the changes that come along. Indeed, he embraces them, for he knows that change is the essence of life.