The Triton


Leadership on yachts evolving for captains and crew


There is a term in psychology called the “above-average effect”, which states that we generally view ourselves in a more positive way than others may view us. In other words, we consider ourselves better than we actually are.

This applies to how smart we think we are, how talented we think we are, and how good looking we think we are. However, when it comes to rating others, the above-average effect is negligible, and we are generally fairly accurate in our assessments.

I bring this up only to point out that if 70 percent of the captains who participated in The Triton’s leadership survey in the January issue consider themselves above average, with the other 30 percent as average, there is a pretty good chance some above-average effect is influencing the self-ratings.

Considering crew members rated captains as being average and below average, 39 percent and 37 percent respectively, captains industry-wide should take this evaluation seriously.

Based on the survey, captains everywhere should sincerely reflect on what the various crew members have said and consider carefully whether they are as good as they think they are when it comes to their leadership abilities. After consideration, there may be a few who feel they could use some leadership skills development.

There are many ways to improve leadership abilities. There are leadership companies that land-based organizations use in the United States, such as Dale Carnegie Training, The Ken Blanchard Companies and Skillsoft, to name a few. Additionally, marine schools offer HELM courses, and there are other leadership training providers specifically for marine personnel, such as the Marine Leadership Group.

All of these options point to opportunities for improvement. It simply comes down to whether captains want to change, which rests squarely on their shoulders. Alternatively, they can stay with the status quo: high crew turnover, low crew morale, and minimal loyalty to both captains and owners. This doesn’t even touch on the high costs associated with these issues, all paid for by the boss.

Leaders at all levels in an organization need to understand that the days when followers were considered cogs in a machine, to only do what they were told to do and nothing more, are over. Followers (employees) actively decide if they will follow a leader. And the decision to follow is based on the captain’s actions as a leader: how they behave toward others and themselves. Beyond having a title, leaders have little control over whether people will decide to follow.

We now live in a world where “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” as J. Maxwell said in his 2008 book “Leadership gold: Lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of Leading”.

This is a key point for leaders to remember about followers. As individuals, we respond to those who care for us and shy away from those who do not. In a large organization like a huge multi-national corporation, it is impossible for the CEO to care for each individual.

But on a yacht with up to 20 crew members, is it really that hard to show you care for your people? It is foolish to think followers will give their best unless leadership at all levels in an organization actively demonstrates how each person matters. (Those who think a slightly higher wage demonstrates caring are missing the point.)

Leadership is not reserved only for captains. Leadership development is for everyone, if for no other reason than for crew to better support the leader for whom they work. All crew can and will be leaders in one way or another, because leadership is about behavior, not position. If crew start learning leadership early and develop good habits, they will create positive leadership experiences as they move around an organization and are given more and more responsibility.

The take-away from The Triton leadership survey is that we no longer live in a by-gone era where a captain can behave with a God complex simply because of a title. Leaders today are taken to task and held accountable for their actions like no other time in history. This accountability shows how crucial it is to develop leadership skills.

Indeed, followers today tolerate poor leadership less and less, evidenced by high rates of job turnover. When a deckhand leaves one vessel for the same job on another boat, it is because of leadership. People do not leave jobs, people leave people.


Paul Ferdais is founder and owner of The Marine Leadership Group based in Ft. Lauderdale and Vancouver. He has a master’s degree in leadership and spent seven years working as a deckhand, mate and first officer on yachts. He’s hosting a free “Intro to Leadership” at 7:30 p.m. on March 12 at Bahia Mar. Register at and click on “free events”. Comments on this essay are welcome at

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