Taking the Helm: by Paul Ferdais
I’m currently working with John, a bosun on a commercial vessel, and he’s been shocked to realize just how much impact he has with his crew through his random comments. He’s surprised because, to him, he’s just doing his job. What the bosun didn’t understand was the impact his invisible influence has on his team.
For example, when John was inspecting the state of the vessel upon his return from rotation, he made comments about the other rotating bosun regarding the cleanliness of the vessel and how things were left when rotation happened. These comments were made in front of the deck team with no regard for how the comments might be interpreted. He made his comments in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek kind of way, with everyone laughing at what was said.
In another instance, a deckhand was speaking in a racist way about a guest on the boat, and the bosun immediately told the deckhand that type of language would not be tolerated on the boat.
After both instances, I saw the immediate impact of the bosun’s actions. After the bosun left the room, I first noticed a willingness on the part of the deck team to voice their own views and complaints about the other rotating bosun. Even though the comments had been of a humorous nature, that didn’t stop anyone from speaking their mind. Also, I noticed there were no more racist comments by anyone on the deck team.
Here’s the thing: Any comments leaders make are taken by those around them as cues to what is – or is not – appropriate behavior on the vessel. Leaders set the tone by what they tolerate and allow. This was clearly done through the bosun’s comments.
Leaders are always under a magnifying lens. We may not realize it, but everything we do – and I mean everything – is watched and analyzed, interpreted and judged by the people around us. Whether it’s making a “suggestion” on the way to do a job or how many cups of coffee we drink, whether it’s not doing things with the crew after work or joining in activities, people look for some kind of meaning from a leader’s behavior.
Behavior is amplified
Pay attention to everything you say. No one’s perfect, but our sometimes poor or questionable language is going to be noted, evaluated and dissected. As the bosun later found out, his deck crew were hard at work voicing their own opinions of the rotation bosun. He wasn’t amused.
John didn’t realize his comments about the other rotating bosun were a form of gossip, which he has now stopped. The golden rule applies: If you have nothing nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. Also, if you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it behind their back.
The biggest take away here is not to speak ill of someone else. If I’m happy to say mean or nasty things about someone else to you, then you can assume I’ll say mean and nasty things about you to someone else.
Don’t be a leader who complains
Complaints have their uses if expressed to the right people at the right time in the right circumstances. However, complaining for the sake of complaining doesn’t produce a positive work environment. Complaining is a negative influence in your work place.
Reactions speak volumes
How leaders react to poor behavior in others speaks volumes. When a leader faces a negative situation straight on, in the moment, he builds credibility. John immediately faced the issue of racism in the workplace. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the deckhand had stepped over the line with his comments.
Make sure that you adhere to the same standard you set for others. If you’re seen to say or do things you’ve asked others not to do, you’ll be seen as having a double standard, which erodes credibility and confidence others may have in you.
Be as positive an influencer as much as possible.
A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). Comments are welcome below.