Seaworthiness: Something All Successful Organizations Display

It is important to view your organization like it is a sailing vessel. All successful businesses have what I call seaworthiness.

They sail the vast and endless seas of enterprise with navigational poise, patience, purpose and endurance.

There are several components of their “vessel” they use with extreme intentionality – the keel, the hull, the rudder and the sails. Let me explain, starting with the often unheralded keel.

On a ship, the keel keeps the boat balanced. It provides stability and a constant center of gravity. The keel is below the water; it can’t be seen but is silently invaluable – and always present.

Is there a keel in business? I believe so. I think it is your values.

Your values – real and clear – keep you centered in keel-like fashion. The values guide every decision you make. They especially provide clarity when the storms on the business sea may be roiling. When that is happening, go back to your values. What do your values say? Why did you write these words in the first place? Focus on the values in renewed fashion, and, in due time, you will find smoother, calmer waters.

To me, values determine your culture. Culture does not determine your values. Just a quick point to make here, but I believe an important one.

Now speaking of culture, let’s move to the hull part of the vessel.

The hull is the watertight body of a boat. There are various hull shapes, flat-bottom, v-bottom, multi-bottom and others. For businesses, your culture is your hull. It is where your business gets its watertightness from, day in and day out.

Like the range of hulls described above, companies have different shapes and sizes when it comes to cultures. Every culture has its own unique set of cultural attributes and distinctions.

However, all healthy cultures have some qualities that are consistent. These are cultures where the people working at the organization feel inspired and interested in where the business is heading. They are determined and driven. They feel part of something larger than themselves. Their hearts and minds are daily poured into and, as result, they pour into the work they have been given with unshakable commitment.

The employees of the organization can be their complete selves inside this hull. The company is a safe environment, a place of absolute support and security as well as encouragement, learning, actualizing of potential and sincere care. (The word culture derives in origination from a Latin word meaning “care.”)

As Daniel Coyle writes in his illuminating book, “The Culture Code,” all vibrant cultures have “a distinct pattern of interaction.”

Coyle notes that these working patterns include:

  • Humor, laughter
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Close proximity, often in circles
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • Treating others respectfully
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Physical gestures such as handshakes, high fives, fist bumps
  • Small attentive courtesies (saying thank you, opening doors, etc.)
  • Their own vernacular, words they use to describe things that spark head nods from fellow workers because they understand the meaning/catchphrase

All the above creates a special chemistry and makes people want to visit you and even work at your office space for a morning or afternoon to feed off the kinetic energy they see and feel. These visitors leave your office impressed and even uplifted. They say to themselves as they depart, “These folks have something quite special going on here.”

Now sometimes the watertightness inside your cultural hull needs a little repair work. This requirement is not only normal, but it is necessary.  After all, you have been out at “sea” for a while. Some days, it has been rough on those business waters. The “wind” has been blowing hard in that heavy weather. After all, business is arduous not glamorous, sweaty not sexy. More elbow grease is needed than expected when you first opened your cabin doors and got those sails hoisted.

Well, there is good news here. This repair work on your hull is a sign that you have a legitimate ethos. People deeply care about where they work, and they love working with the folks they call their teammates, which is a wonderful thing.  They want, therefore, to help you fix the hull area and contribute where they can because they are genuinely invested in the place and its overall well-being.

If you are in a leadership role, my advice is to engage your team in the fixing process that needs to be done. Tap their insights. Get their feedback. Take it all seriously and talk openly about it. Get the hull work done and then humbly move forward.

Remember, too, as a leader of a company that has a greenhouse-like culture, places where people and ideas flourish, you have something unique, starting with your talented people and the clients they serve. Don’t beat yourself up too much on the repair work. Mainly learn from it, keep moving and keep navigating the boat you are sailing. Again, you have to keep moving. You have new opportunities ahead and new places to explore. Sail and press on in your quest!

Okay, let’s talk about the rudder now, which keeps the vessel sound directionally. As we all know, the rudder is a steering apparatus, a vertical blade at the stern of a boat.

Every vessel has a rudder. It is essential: no rudder, no navigational headway. Rudderless is not a good thing. Neither is visionless in the bang-bang pressure of the business milieu.

In business, your rudder is your vision. As the founder of North Point Ministries Andy Stanley points out, your vision is about what could be and should be. Determine your vision, believe in it and then set sail! Your vision might be tweaked or shaped as your company grows over time. That is alright. No major concerns here. You are evolving. The rudder, like your vision, has to adjust in the water for steering reasons.

Keep reminding the people you are privileged to work with what the vision means at your organization and underscore to them why they play a major role in making that vision a reality. Celebrate all the vision wins every step of the way as this reality beautifully begins to unfold.

By the way, all good leaders are skilled at what I call the “ates.” They celebrate well. They initiate well, getting things moving. They also demonstrate well, embodying the values of the organization. And, of course, they navigate well.

We have covered now three fundamental features of any soundly built sea vessel: 1. the keel, 2. the hull and 3. the rudder. What we have not discussed yet, and certainly need to, is the significance of the sails resplendent on any sailing craft.

We all know a sailing ship can’t traverse efficiently without its sails. When the proper wind works in tandem with the mast of a sailing vessel, positive results happen, such as the right speed and energy expended. One of the key factors here is the mainsail, the largest sail on the main mast. You can’t sail smoothly without it.

In business, your mainsail is simply your people. They activate your brand, create topspin and trajectory for your business and produce ongoing brand deposits for you within your brand bank account.

Of course, there are many definitions of a brand. For me, a brand is what the people who matter most to you say about you. This important set of people is usually your employees, your customers and the community. These are the big three.

When you receive consistently positive remarks from these critical audiences, you engender substantial brand equity, which is a powerful thing. Brand equity is something to never stop focusing on, just like the concentration that needs to be relentless on your people, your mainsail. They propel you forward and keep your reputation sailing.

These thoughts are a quick examination of just some of the components you need to hone your business vessel from my perspective. There are many others.

Based on my experience, I believe these elements will help you gain and maintain your seaworthiness and make you a sea master.

As you are traveling along, know that you are not alone in this adventure and realize that the journey is well worth the toil and stamina required.

I leave you with some final words as we, together, keep on the quest for extraordinary excellence and extraordinary business success.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather the wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”  – Antoine de Saint Exupery in the “The Wisdom of the Sands”