Thursday, October 4, 2012

What I learned about business (and life) from sailing

Charting your course to workplace resilience

Charting your course to workplace resilience requires you to:

  •           Know your shoreline
  •           Understand how wind works
  •           Set the sail and adjust with the wind
  •           Watch the horizon for storms- telltales tell all
  •           Know how to right the boat
  •           And to have some fun

Christopher setting up the boat with our dog Toby patiently waiting... he enjoyed the water too!

My husband Christopher and I love to sail, although that was not always the case for me. About sixteen years ago we were in a sailboat accident that almost cost us our lives.  Swimming for our lives that day in the lake taught me a great deal about resilience, and I made some discoveries later about how similar sailing was to life and business.

When I coined the term Bounce Forward(TM) to define resilience (it is often understood as bouncing back) it was based on my big learning that I was not as resilient as I thought.  After our sailboat accident it took me almost seven years to get back on the boat. And a few more to actually enjoy it.

Bouncing Forward (resilience) requires us to:

  1.           Know your shoreline- have your eye on the goal (always) and know your back up shoreline if the situation or plans change. In business your shoreline is your goal and overarching vision. That day in the lake, my shoreline was 4 ½ miles across the lake – the distance we had to swim to make it back alive if not rescued.
  2.           Understand how wind works- in sailing you must know how the wind works, and understand to watch for wind changes by the colour of the water, differences in waves and by watching your sails. In business and life, wind challenges, staff turnover, policy changes, new equipment and systems (some which drive you nuts), and stormy wind that is tough to get through. But, when you understand how the wind works, and how to sail through it, your team can follow your lead and stay afloat.
  3.           Set the sail and adjust with the wind- in sailing you need to know how to set the sail, and of course adjust as the wind changes. The same is true in business. You must know how to choose the right course to reach the goals and manage the challenges, and then adjust as needed as change or new demands surface. In sailing, the more accurate the set of the sail, the better the journey.
  4.           Watch the horizon for storms- telltales tell all. Our sailboat, a 20 foot Tornado Catamaran has huge sails with a 32 foot mast. You can imagine the size of the mainsail.  The sails are outfitted with telltales- a little piece of ribbon affixed to the sail which shows you how the wind flows along the sail.  When the sail is not set accurately the telltales flap about in the wind and do not lie flat and stream along the surface of the sail cloth. In life, and in business, there are telltales to look for (your gut reaction, warning signs, changes in team performance, etc). Use these telltales to help you set the sails in business and adjust as needed.
  5.           Know how to right the boat – in sailing sometimes the boat capsizes. This happens in business and life to. Bouncing forward means that in these challenges we can ask for help, right the boat and get back on the journey with minimal drama.
  6.           And to have some fun- this makes the journey worthwhile, and a lot easier to get back on the boat next time.
This story and these tips are part of my Bounce Forward keynote and seminar program.

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