written by Anne-Louise Meyer
Sometimes, you meet inspiring leaders in unlikely places and at times when you're not quite searching from them. When I was traveling Chile this spring, I met a young man who was the third mate (officer) on a cargo and passenger boat. He was only 27, and meeting him aboard his boat was indeed an inspiring experience. He had a natural authority in his work with his staff which I found very intriguing. Therefore, I took the opportunity that presented itself in this unusual spot, and I asked him what he does to be a good leader.
The third mate told me that he concentrated on two things when it comes to leadership: Firstly, he said he made sure to be a leader by leading. He wants crew members to know how a task is done by observing him. He wants to serve as a good example. So he made sure to practice what he was preaching, and to apply his own standards in his work to himself. Secondly, he said that he knew his coworkers very well. He made a point of learning about their specific skill sets, recognizing them for what they do best, and putting them up to tasks that were just right for them. With these two, seemingly simple but practically demanding, guiding principles for action, he managed to command a leadership style aboard the vessel that was apparent to me even as a passer-by.
During my stay on the boat, I observed a few behaviors of the third mate on the bridge, and in particular with relation to how he communicated with his staff. There were several small characteristics that I noticed in his behavior, which I am certain contribute to his inspiring leadership style.
1) Knowledge: Co-workers realized that they would get good answers to their questions from him and seemed to respect him for this.
2) Being precise: His statements to communicate tasks to his staff were short, precise and comprehensible so it is easy for the co-workers to follow them.
3) Getting emotions under control: When problems arose, he kept visibly calm and tried to stick to the facts. He did not get carried away by his emotions, but rather kept them in check and focused on the challenge ahead.
4) Being tangible: One of his most admirable strengths was his tangibility. He was often cheerful and joked around with the crew and the passengers. Even then it remained perfectly clear that he was in charge, but he did not use his authority to distance people from himself. Rather, being in open and friendly contact with his surroundings seemed to give him an even better feel for the mood, and allowed him to operate with his crew as a team member rather than only based on hierarchy.
5) Keep on growing: During conversations, he listened closely to learn. He was very attentive, asked a lot of questions and tried to understand both the facts and the people involved. A solid plan to grow further.
With these five observations of my own, and his two self-reflected strategies for leadership, the young mate certainly was an intriguing real-life example of a leader to meet. I guess this also goes to show that good leaders can be found anywhere, at any time, and are always very much worth taking to!
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