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The Sailboat Story- A Lesson in Navigating Your Business Chapter Three

Using the analogy of a sailboat for creating insights into how businesses operate and how to plan your journey.

As we continue our journey, we will take a closer look at the resources on a sailboat as well as the crew members and consider the role each plays in a successful journey. And when we translate those resources and crew roles into your business, countless opportunities will appear for a more successful business.


In the center of the yacht, at the heart of it all, stands the crew, hard at work apparently oblivious to what goes on around them, heads down, arms crankin’, focused only on their task, working their butts off. They are the ones getting the work done. They are the ones behind the scenes that play the part that no one appreciates. There is no glamour in this job. . just a lot of sweat and achy muscles. And what do you suppose would happen if they didn’t show up for work. Would the sails be trimmed properly? Would the captain or tactician step in and take charge? Maybe they would step in and give it a shot, but inevitability failure is on the horizon.

And look at the feet of the crew, ropes in a tangled mess. Not the safest work environment . . but who cares, just as so long as they keep those sails moving and tight, allowing the boat to hit max speed. At the ready for the next set of barked orders.

I worked in restaurants for a very long time and I would suggest that there are few workplaces as chaotic as a restaurant. And I have would say that the staff in the dish room are the crew that keeps the restaurant afloat. I would also say that the dish room is the most dangerous place in the restaurant, even more dangerous than that angry chef with the sharp knife. As a restaurant manager, I learned that the crew in the dish room needs to be safe and happy. Hand shaking when they arrive for their shift, bring them food during their shift and a cold beer at the end of their shift works miracles. And removing my necktie and rolling up my sleeves to mop the floor so that they remain safe is a great idea.

Who is working the trenches in your business? Who’s your crew? Are they struggling with the day to day tasks that keep your business afloat? Do they have ropes at their feet that can cause them to perform poorly or worse, get them hurt. How is the work environment in which they are expected to produce results? Do they get any of the glamour that your business is handed? If you can’t respond without a loud “absolutely, every day in every operation”, then there is work to be done. Recognition and attention paid to the folks in the trenches is probably one of the single greatest investments you can make in your business. No one appreciates them when they are doing a great job, but when they fail, bosses are on them like you know what.

I remember the first-time I captained a crew, a crew of one, my son Jack. And as a good captain, the safety of my crew was first and foremost, life jacket first. He was not allowed anywhere near the boat without a life jacket, appropriate size and fitted to his shape. Always, anytime and every time, wear a life jacket.

Anyway, all suited up in his life vest, I pointed to a spot towards the front of the sitting area, said, “Jack, you sit there, and you move when I tell you and you duck when I tell you.” That was it . . his first lesson in sailing. Nothing about sheets, centerboard, jib or coming about . . just basic, protective, no nonsense stay on the boat and out of the water instructions. He probably doesn’t remember that first sail, but I do . . . I worry that I gave him nothing but a sense of fear when it came to heading out. I guess I couldn’t have done too bad, because we have enjoyed many another voyage together. And over the years, he has learned more and more about sailing. He handles the jib and understands the five or six simultaneous tasks that need to happen when coming about. You see, we started with the basics and built from there. Without a clear understanding where to sit, when to move and when to duck, you can’t even begin to worry about much less understand how to work with sails, ropes and rudders.

It might be the same way in the business world, but I would guess that telling an employee on day one, “you sit there, and you move when I tell you and you duck when I tell you” is not the best approach to new employee orientation. However, setting a better tone with an emphasis on the basics and fundamentals of the business is the right approach. Does the crew fully understand the value of their contributions to the overall mission of the business? Does every member of your crew feel welcome and appreciated every day? Is their work environment safe and free of hazards? Do they have everything they need to accomplish the work you have asked of them?

Navigation Points

At the end of each installment of this ongoing blog, I will present key points that you should consider, contemplate and act on. Create a list of things you can take from the blog and put to work in your work

  • Who is your crew?Do they understand the value of their contributions?

  • How can you reward them after a hard day’s work or when they reach a significant goal?

  • Are they safe?

This is the third installment of an ongoing blog. To see other installments, please visit my website at While you are there, look around and let me know what might interest you.

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