Are you Steering the Ship or Charting the course?

In Business, Business Management, Culture, Leadership by Stephen Rogers

I love the analogy of comparing the course of a business to a journey, and especially an ocean-going journey.  When I look at the “leadership” of an organisation, I always look to see whether the Captain (CEO/MD) is steering the ship or charting the course.  If they are “Managers”, they will typically steer the ship, doing, getting into the nitty-gritty, undertaking something that other competent subordinates could easily do, but the “Manager” feels the need to control the narrative.   In steering the ship, they can only see as far as the horizon, and then not clearly.  If a problem arises ahead, they need to react to avoid a collision, and sometimes those problems lie below the surface unseen, and the impact is unavoidable and detrimental.  They are letting someone else, or no-one, chart their course.

“Leaders” are expected to chart the course. In doing so, they are looking ahead, beyond the horizon, seeing the bigger picture, to the destination of the business.  They foresee the obstacles along the way, because the chart clearly shows the reefs, rocks, islands and the sunken vessels that have gone before.  The chart also shows the navigable passage, the channel to enter to give the vessel sufficient clearance for an unobstructed journey.  It identifies the markers (= measures) along the route to tell the Captain they are on the correct course, and the navigation aids confirm the exact location on the journey.  The Captain relies on the skills of his crew to steer, keep lookout, and maintain the operation of the ship, informing him of any issues along the way.  Sometimes the course is awkward, and the Captain needs the help of a Pilot to provide expertise and advice for a section of the journey, much like a coach, mentor or advisor.

Which are you, the “Leader” or the “Manager”?  It is pretty simple to tell.  How involved are you in the groundworks, the day to day operations, vs the helicopter or even the satellite view?  If you are involved too much, you are likely demonstrating that you don’t trust those around you to do their tasks and be responsible.  As a “Leader” you must be informed of the happenings, but you should rarely be involved in the mundane.  Keep the organisation moving forward under a clear vision and plan.  Maintain a strategic view so that you can see and correct any minor deviations.  That is the point of having competent and able people in your crew; are they?  Maybe that is a question for next time?