Lesson 3 – Good Crew. Bad Crew

This is the third installment of my Sailing Lessons Series, we look at some qualities to find in your crew.

In this series I explore a few good management lessons I’ve learned sailing my small boat. A small boat is like a small company. A bigger boat is like a bigger company (you get the idea). The things that make a voyage go well are similar to the things that make a company navigate its own journey well. But remember, like any voyage, there are many factors you can not control and that is really where the fun is anyway.


A sailboat is a small confined space from which there is no escape once you shove off from the dock. The voyage itself is often demanding and will surface every flaw and strength of character in the crew (and skipper). An enterprise is similar and a good leader select the crew (key executives) with care because the strains of the journey commercial success will test team in powerful ways.

Here are three qualities you should look for in finding good crew and avoiding bad crew.

Number 1: Fortitude. Fortitude is the first and most significant factor to look for. A good fellow with lots talent is of no use to anyone if he looses his nerve in a storm. Fortitude is the virtue of courage that enables the crew to persevere in hardship. This shared hardship is the source of genuine esprit-de-corps and the willingness to sacrifice for the others. Look for this quality first.

Number 2: Compatibility. This quality is a certain flexibility that allows a crew to accommodate each other. It is not the same as friendship or affinity; which is often lost put to the test. But it is the willingness grant the others space to be themselves, do their job, and offer the lubrication of appreciation. Crew, or teammates, who are critical, overbearing, or meddlesome, are bad crew regardless of their other virtues.

Beware any teammate who believes that the success or failure of the voyage hinges on them. A critical aspect of compatibility is the willingness to know one’s place on the boat – literally. Each crew has a job and must own that task willingly. The moment a crew wants to commandeer the role of another crew (or skipper), compatibility is lost and misery for all ensues.

Number 3: Competence. A crew must have competence and the more the better. Competence is cultivated by
experience and enable the crew to do the right thing without direction. An experienced and competent crew make for a quick and safe passage.
When selecting team members for your organization it is imperative you staff up with sufficient competence in key roles.

A good team can include a large number of novices; as long as they have fortitude and compatibility. But a team entirely of novices is much more likely to fail then one with good experience. It is a very false economy to cut corners in assembling a experience team of leaders. Just as in critical equipment, buy the best experience you can afford.