How Sailing Empowers Leaders In The Workplace


A couple years ago I was introduced to sailing during a spontaneous trip to Monterey with my family. Ignoring all cautions, we sailed along the coast in conditions most casual sailors would shy away from. By the end of the trip we were all exhausted and drenched from head-to-toe, but I had fallen in love with sailing.

Over the last year, I’ve been learning to sail through formal instruction at OCSC Sailing Club in Berkeley, CA. The club’s motto, “Inspire Confidence,” represents their methodology of teaching proper technique and mentally conditioning you for the unexpected. What I’ve learned is that there are basic sailing principles that can be applied to a workplace environment to help create better leaders and improve team dynamics.

Delegate to your crew.

Every person has a specific job that contributes to efficient sailing and are responsible for working as a team to ensure the safety of everyone onboard. Your team of employees all contribute in some way to keep the company moving forward. Learn to delegate properly. Defining clear responsibilities and encouraging employees to work together as a team will help operations run smoother and more efficiently.

Communication is key.

The crew cannot read the skipper’s mind so it is up to the skipper to clearly state their intentions. Workplace communication is vital to the flow of information and now more than ever, it is important to receive regular updates from your team. Transparency also helps employees have a better view of what other global factors may affect their tasks ahead; so consider opening up your filter of information.

You can’t control the elements.

The cliché “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust the sails,” holds true in both sailing and the workplace. While you can’t always anticipate what comes next, you can adjust for the unknowns as you encounter them. This is where clear communication plays an important role in keeping your company moving forward productively.

Use external indicators.

Sailors use a variety of external indicators to help them detect the slightest changes in conditions. Wave direction, bubble trails and waving flags all serve as indicators that can help the skipper and the crew make necessary adjustments. There are a whole new set of tools that are openly available to businesses to help them anticipate changes in trends, markets, etc. Embrace them! Use them to analyze your next move and go for it.

Make committed decisions.

Once you have the necessary information to move forward, make a decision and commit to it. Stop second guessing yourself. If you need to make adjustments, make them swiftly. Never lose sight of your end goal but understand that you may need to tweak your plan along the way.

Last but not least…Have fun!

By far the most important rule in sailing, work and life in general, is to have fun while doing it. Everything becomes much more fluid when you build a culture around a positive atmosphere. After all if you’re having fun, then it’s not considered work. And any day sailing is better than a day at work.

I’d love to hear more about your personal experiences that have helped you professionally. Please feel free to leave me your comments below.