I happen to play fiddle and sing in a couple of Celtic bands. There is a strong maritime tradition in many of the songs and a lot of them seem to be about ships reaching a tragic end.

But ships didn’t just head out for fun back in those days. They were generally there for the purpose of commerce (or navy).

Leadership requirements are at their peak when the ship is in peril. This is no different for your business. Ancient galley fleet

So imagine back in the days of rowed shipping. This is before powered travel. Even sails were not all that effective; mostly for running with the wind. Often times, you needed the crew to row.

Now imagine your ship has hit a bit of a rough spot and developed some serious leaks. If everyone on the ship is bailing, the ship is no longer sinking, but it is not going anywhere either.

If everyone is rowing, the ship will sink in a few hours. The nearest land is at least half a day away.

The Tactical Leader

The average tactical leader will focus on the problem. The ship is sinking. If everyone rows, we will drown. If everyone bails we will stay afloat.

So they bail and hope another ship passes by to rescue them before their food and energy run out; and pray that the leaking doesn’t get worse.

If they are rescued they survive but rescue is not guaranteed.

The Strong Tactical Leader

The strong tactical leader will get out the map, look at where the nearest land is, decide what the optimum balance of bailers and rowers are and start moving towards land.

If they make it they survive but the ship and cargo may be lost.

The Strategic Leader

The strategic leader will look at the map, consider the currents and winds, find the right balance of rowers and bailers, and head to a port where they can still salvage or sell the goods. There is a certain amount of additional risk with the longer route, but they calculate the odds and are comfortable that they are in their favor.

If they make it they not only survive, but come out ahead.

The Tragic End

The interesting part about all of the prior scenarios is they could all still fail. The leaking could get worse. Their calculations could be off. A mermaid could lure them to their watery graves.

The purely tactical leader is seen as courageous; win or lose.

The strategic leader is seen as reckless if they fail; or courageous AND brilliant if they succeed.

Yet they are still only as brilliant as the last single win.

The Truly Brilliant Leader

The truly brilliant strategic leader owns a lot of ships and attempts to hire captains who are good strategic leaders or strong tactical leaders. Since they have lots of ships the loss of any one ship, while making a great song, does not end the overall enterprise.

The Lessons for Your Business

Ships out of port are always either at risk of sinking (or are actually sinking) are you focusing tactically or strategically?

I would rather not be the subject of a song prematurely.

So are you sailing a ship or building a business?

Bonus Track

A little sea shanty on what you need to do to leave the ocean to celebrate my 500th post. Sung by Doug Wagner and Greg Black.