Tag Archives: sailing

Reflection on Transformation

sailing

Peter Drucker predicted that by 2020 a new world – completely different from our grandparents’ reality – would exist. Drucker, father of modern management, explained in a 1992 essay for Harvard Business Review, that “every few hundred years throughout Western history, a sharp transformation has occurred. In a matter of decades, society altogether rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions.”

To live through transformation is to experience how society rearranges itself over the course of time; it is to live our grandparents’ reality along with our children’s triumphs and challenges.

At a young age, I was given the opportunity to participate in a bygone age; an era of sailing ships, slow travel, unchartered waters, and traditional navigational tools like steering by compass and navigating by stars and sextant. I grew up on sailboats; traditional wooden sailing ships that had very few comforts beyond a bunk, a well-stocked galley kitchen, and a solidly built hull and rigging.

My childhood prepared me for thinking about transformation. Experiencing the shining Southern Cross constellation, dolphins playing at the bow, lava rolling into a frothy sea off the Hawaiian Islands, or voices joined in chorus to accompany raising sails is the best way to learn that we are part of something bigger – an ecosystem beyond our own “world.”

In business we are also part of ecosystems and our connections to networks, to ideas, and to each other means that we must stay relevant, interested, and moving towards bettering our organizational practices in a completely transformed (and dynamic) reality.

Transformation is about profound change but it may be our connection to the simple (yet important) things that guide us through. My work in Marketing and Strategy is about finding and expressing those connections to heart and meaning as well as learning through insights, conversations, and sheer determination how best to create, market, and adapt the products and services we deliver to our clients and stakeholders. In a broader context or ecosystem, we must align ourselves with human interest, values, and a larger purpose in order to stay meaningful and be relevant as the world changes around us.

Aristotle said that society is something that precedes the individual. If society undergoes change we cannot look to further individual or even organizational goals but rather explore how those goals connect us to something larger. That’s what carries us through transformation and what carries a ship safely through unchartered waters.

Esther Clark, April 2019

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Savvy Saturday July 5th, 2014

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Why it Takes Humility to be a Sailor and a Leader

under sail
It took us almost four weeks to cross the Tasman Sea through the “roaring forties” – the strong winds found between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees- on our 111 foot schooner to New Zealand. We had rationed water, food and fuel as we battled headwinds ever since leaving Australia; winds were coming directly at us and forcing us to chart a zigzag course to our destination.

There were moments of angst, of confusion, of boredom and of impatience but what transpired over those four weeks until we made it safely into a little harbor on New Zealand’s North Island was a renewed sense of humility and of community that meant putting others – “the good of the ship” – before our own interests.

Decades ago, Peter Drucker wrote:

“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

And that’s precisely what our sailing expedition taught us: that ordinary people led by ordinary people in a mission that inspires action, collaboration and problem solving is the key to success when faced with adversity.

Organizations face adversity every single day. Managers and leaders have to perform small miracles in order to overcome challenges, solve problems or deliver the results they think their shareholders want. When managers are good at this, they are compensated accordingly and the circle may be perpetuated as more “wins” bring greater prestige, honor and reward. It’s positive reinforcement at its best.

Is there a place for humility in leadership today? And can humility and prestige co-exist within a leader?

Humility is only a weakness in a system that values things like status over substance, personality over character, or performance over depth. Today, we have the option of moving away from the “either” “or” scenario to embrace humility – serving others – as well as prestige and reward. Jonathan Sacks wrote:

What a glorious revelation humility is of the human spirit … True humility is one of the most life-enhancing of all virtues. It does not mean undervaluing or underestimating yourself. It means valuing other people. It signals an openness to life’s grandeur and the willingness to be surprised, uplifted, by goodness wherever one finds it … False humility is the pretense that one is small. True humility is the consciousness of standing in the presence of greatness.

When we were four weeks at sea – we were standing in the presence of the power and greatness of the ocean. But there’s no need to enter into survival mode to experience greatness. Greatness can be achieved through humility by simply avoiding putting yourself before others and leading ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

EMC
Photo source: dreshetnikov, via thenowbook on Tumblr

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Savvy Saturday March 8th, 2014

Pacific Swift First Offshore

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover. –Mark Twain

Photo courtesy Rachel Clark. I (Esther Clark) am seated on the right beside the man with the camera. Offshore voyage aboard the Pacific Swift from Victoria, BC to Brisbane, Australia and back.

Tagged , , , , , ,

What I learnt about leadership on a 111-foot topsail schooner

clarks in mystic seaport

I grew up on sailing ships; every summer I would sail around Vancouver Island (B.C.) and Desolation Sound and at the age of 10 I undertook my first offshore voyage from Victoria, B.C. (Canada) to Brisbane, Australia and back. Later trips included the intercoastal waterways of US and Canada and sailing around Latin America and the Caribbean.

clarks in brisbane
Photo: Onboard the Pacific Swift in Brisbane, Australia.

Here is a summary of what my sailing experience taught me about being a leader:

1) It’s about trust.
There is an excellent video by Simon Sinek where he talks about how leaders eat last. Leadership is about creating a circle of people that trust you to lead them and to “provide” (in the broadest sense of the word) for them. Establishing trust as a leader – whether you are the captain or a member of the crew – is paramount to others contributing their talent, “risky” ideas and energy towards completion of a goal.

2) It’s about vision.
I’m talking about a tangible vision – not “we will to be the most respected company in the ….industry” but rather, “we will sail this 111 foot schooner to Australia and back”. I am a firm believer in establishing project vision at the start; every project (and project collaborator) needs to share a vision in order for people to be able to come together to create something valuable, meaningful and “real”; a project vision also helps people feel the rewards of achieving that vision once the project or journey wraps up.

3) It’s about communication.
Listening, talking, checking-in…leaders invest their time in people. They interact personally with their team and are often not the loudest person in the room because they listen and observe in order to lead more effectively and not fall into the traps of “trade-offs”. Of course they command when necessary (as a captain commands the person at the helm when entering a port or a military leader orchestrates a mission) but their “commands” are in line with the established goals that the project or organization is trying to achieve.

“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” Aristotle

4) It’s about forming other leaders.
I have “taken the helm” of a sailboat many times. I don’t remember having to ask for permission. Leadership means forming other leaders and inspiring others to take risks, take action and help to further the shared vision. It’s not about control or power but rather about giving those things to others so that the whole can be larger than the sum of its parts.

“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” Peter Drucker

5) It’s about love.
We don’t use the “L” word very much in business but we are social creatures and helping others makes us feel good. When we communicate in person, shake hands or do something for someone else we feel good about it. Scientifically speaking, we are wired to release the “bonding” hormone oxytocin when we are generous towards others. Leadership is about fostering more connections and bonds with people. Sailing means living in very close quarters. Interactions are inevitable. The challenge is business is making transactions more like interactions and fostering dialogue and engagement with people in and outside the organization in order to make people feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. Leadership means making people feel like they are on a voyage of discovery.

Sailing onboard a ship – especially when you are out at sea and two weeks travel from the nearest landfall – teaches you about community, about sharing, and about leadership. It teaches you that people from all walks of life can come together to create something amazing – a society with a shared goal or purpose; a little floating ecosystem; a community of pioneers or explorers.

And you, what do you think leadership means?

EMC

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Visual Business Inspiration

sail

It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.
George William Curtis

Tagged , , , , , , ,