Years ago, my husband and I went sailing with some friends in San Diego. When we boarded the boat, the water in the harbor was smooth. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and the weather was breezy. The destination for the day was a trip along the coast. The captain appeared capable and instilled confidence. A navigation plan was in place. The group of people I was with included very experienced sailors. From the harbor, it appeared to be an almost perfect day for sailing.

Our role as leaders is sometimes like being in the calm harbor. We have a destination or a mission in our minds of where we intend to go. We have crafted a plan to get there. The team appears ready to tackle any obstacles in our way. Then we set our sails and leave the harbor. That’s where the adventure begins.

On the day we went sailing, we left the harbor and almost immediately encountered 15 – 20 foot swells. I had never encountered such high swells from such a small vessel, but I was intrigued by the adventure. The crew moved into place and recognized that this trip was going to require all hands on deck.

Have you ever been in that situation as the leader of your team? You are in the harbor ready to embark on an exciting journey and you can already envision reaching the destination. However, when you actually get moving, you realize that the obstacles are many and the journey might be treacherous. All appeared smooth, but then when you set the sails and headed east, the winds blew as hard as they could to drive you west.

One lesson I learned from that trip, was that the leader cannot sail out in high waves from the same level as the crew. The swell would lift the boat high and the captain could see land and his destination. But then, all of sudden, we were between the swells and all we could see was water on both sides. To guide the boat and take the crew and his guests to safety, the captain had to go up in to the crow’s nest. He had to see over and beyond the waves. The crew was busy and, almost frantically, working the sails, but the leader had to get above the details of ropes, mast and sails and see over the waves, so he could direct the boat.

The crow’s nest is not always an easy place to be for a leader. On that day, the winds picked up and the captain had to hold on tightly. From his vantage point, he could see over the waves, but he was not impervious to the motion they produced. In fact, he felt the motion more than his crew. But from the crow’s nest, he could see the land – the destination and completion of the mission. He could better guide his crew to safety.

As leaders, at times, we must get into the crow’s nest. There are moments that it is appropriate to be in the trenches with the crew, managing the ropes and sails. But when the winds pick up and the waves are high, the leader must get above the fray, focus on the mission, and lead the way to reaching the goal. Interestingly, if you have ever really looked at a crow’s nest on a small sailing vessel, there is only room for one person. That one leader stands above the team and above the distractions and obstacles and finds the way forward to achieve the mission.

Our captain led us back to land that day. He safely navigated the high swells and winds and as soon as we crossed back into the harbor, the winds died and the sea was calm again.

It’s a new year and you likely have goals to lead your own team to a new destination. If you are like me and have been given an opportunity to take new ground, it’s likely that the seas will turn rough in a hurry and the winds will begin to whirl around you. That is a good time for us to get into the crow’s nest so that we can keep our eye on the goal. From there, we can cast a vision, guide our team and make our way to fulfill the mission.

From the crow's nest, we can cast a vision, guide our team and make our way to fulfill the mission. Click To Tweet