It's lonely at the Top

The Islander – March 2021

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Who do you turn to.....

This phrase has been uttered so many times by Captains and CEO’s alike. Who do you speak to when you are the person at the top? As you progress through your career, there are fewer and fewer people around you to confide in. On the one hand you socialise and are a friend as well as a boss to your crew, but on the other you need to keep your professional distance. Maintaining a healthy balance of professionalism and friendship can be challenging. Some seniors start to feel too amazing to connect with those beneath them. Or the more junior crew put their Captain on a pedestal, either way the distance becomes too great, impacting on crew dynamics and communications.

You need to maintain enough authority so that you can discipline when the situation arises, yet know that they will talk to you and bring issues to your attention. Consequently, you avoid over familiarity and don’t discuss your challenges with them, or err in the opposite direction and stay out too late, or get too drunk. Nobody wants a Captain that embarrasses them or that they have to carry home!

So who do you turn to when you need to make a tough decision, such as replacing your Chief Officer? The feeling of isolation can make a difficult decision even harder.

Ideally you will create a network of people who can support and advise you, people you can trust with confidential issues. This could be a “mentor” – perhaps another more senior or retired captain, or a close contact in yacht management, who understands your position. Sometimes a good friend or partner who is a good listener can help too. More recently we have seen some senior Captains take on a coach, as many senior employees of organisations do. Often the on board issues you deal with have little to do with “driving” the boat, and instead tend to focus on the human factors, such as dealing with conflict. Having someone you can trust to bounce ideas and thoughts off can be extremely helpful.

A coach will coach the person, not the issue, they are skilled at asking great targeted questions, enabling you to work towards your solutions. Experience and an ethical code of conduct are two essentials in any coaching relationship. Equally important is finding the “right” person or “fit” to be your coach. To benefit from the relationship, you will need to be open and honest, so it’s important that you don’t need to worry that they will betray your confidence or pass judgment about you.

Whoever you use to help you work through the issues, here are a few pointers to make the conversation as beneficial as possible:-

  1. Start with the outcome in mind – know what your goal is and what you are hoping to achieve
  2. Stick to the facts and detach your emotions from the situation
  3. Be honest and open – sometimes hearing everything out loud is all you need
  4. Identify as many different ways of solving the problem before deciding on the best way forward
  5. Make a commitment to your action, including time scales

Whether you need to bounce some ideas around or need help planning your career beyond yachting, we have a range of highly skilled coaches who can support you. As one of our Captains recently said “This experience has been invaluable – having a coach to use as a sounding board, has helped me to stay focussed on what’s important.” Call us now for a free, no obligation initial consultation.