Sailing taught me about finding significance in business and in life. Sailboats are a great analogy to life and business. They need a sail to catch the wind. The boat can’t control how the wind blows, but it can adjust and make the most of it. The larger the sails, the larger the base needs to be. A strong hull and mast provide the necessary foundation to harness the wind. The rudder determines the course and keeps the boat on course. I could go on and on, but let’s focus on those three elements.
The Sails – Know Your Passion
The sails catch the wind. They provide the drive to move forward. Your passion does the same thing. Some distill the passion which motivates you into your “why.” While I think it is noble to do so, I think it also loses some of its power in translation.
Your passion is the emotionally based fundamental driver for you. It comes out of your most basic philosophy and worldview. It taps into the epic longing of our hearts. To help identify it, answer the question “Why am I here?” What is your purpose? What fills you?
Our passion is rarely easy. After all, it is hard to harness the wind. But that struggle is the very reason the boat moves forward. When you know your passion you can angle it to harness the winds of change. Each moment has opportunities. Use your passion to capture them.
The Hull – Know Your Business
The structure of your boat is the business you have built. It can be small and nimble which is great for light wind conditions and tucking into shallow bays. It can be large and hardy, a necessity when the storms rage. Whatever its current size, you need to know what it can handle.
How well do you know your team? Not, just professionally but personally. Do you know their hot buttons? Their pain points. The one thing I know is that when the winds shift and start to blow it will test your capabilities. The heavy winds quickly destroy those who are not prepared. Every person needs to know their role and be able to execute it.
Do you know your instrumentation? If you don’t use a dashboard with all your key metrics now is the time. If you don’t have one, let me know and I’ll share a few examples. A sailor needs heading, speed and wind direction at their fingertips. You need your key metrics visually in front of you daily as well.
The Rudder – Know Your Character
What are your core values? These are the things you care deeply about. Your root values and character act as your rudder.
The rudder keeps the boat from being tossed around. While the sail catches the wind, the relatively small rudder keeps the boat on course. The stronger the wind, the harder it is to keep the rudder on track.
Shifting markets cause fear. When we get scared, we tend to be more open to compromise. In some senses, this is good and necessary. Good times build bad habits. Tough times force us to look at every dollar spent for return on investment. We look at efficiencies in our operations. Tough decisions are made to cut unnecessary staff and overhead. However, when it comes to issues of character, now is the time to hold fast.
The Secret to Business and Sailing
Where do great leaders find the drive to pass success and drive into significance? Success is the goal most leaders aspire to. What happens when you reach it? Burnout, disappointment, and disillusion are typical.
Those who transcend into significance have learned a secret. Use your passion and strengths in the service of others. When we take our eyes off ourselves, we go farther. Success focuses on glory, ego, or status. Significance focuses on legacy, impact and the success of others.
The best days in business and in sailing are days spent with others. Like-minded people who become friends through shared memories. The memories that build loyalty are the ones built in a challenge. The magic happens when the difficulties are overcome in the pursuit of something greater than ourselves. The secret to finding significance in business and in life is in doing what they do in the service of others.
There is nothing like spending a day on the water. The wind in your hair. The glow of the sun on your face. The sails are full and the boat tracking toward your destination. Great sailors are not made in good condition. Nor are great business leaders. They cut their teeth in tough conditions. The great know the passions that propel them. They know their business and how to push it to its limits while holding their character strong. But the very best know the secret to find significance in business and in life is in doing what they do in the service of others.