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Lead Like a Pirate

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Avast, me hearties, and listen well! In the lighthearted spirit of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, let’s envision the romanticized version of these rapscallions of the sea and reflect on their positive qualities. After all, pirate captains had to have masterful communication and leadership skills to steer a band of scurvy knaves to the booty.

Do you follow pirate captains’ best practices when guiding your crew? See if you can answer “arrrr” to the following.

I teach them the ropes. Just as pirates had to learn a complex systems of masts and sails, your team needs to “know the ropes” in order to perform at full capacity. Start training during onboarding, and establish an ongoing development plan that capitalizes on continuous learning. Revisit the plan regularly and adjust according to team members’ strengths and career needs. Coach consistently along the way to keep people from falling overboard.

I show them the map. Share your vision of the destination with your crew. Spell out the objectives and the potential rewards to gain their buy-in. Help them see how they fit into the big picture to strengthen their accountability.

I help them pull together to reap the rewards. Pirates knew their specific duties but understood that without cooperation and teamwork, they wouldn’t reach the shore and the treasures the captain promised. Likewise, you must team-build with your crew, so they learn to work seamlessly together. Show them how their jobs intertwine. Ask them to look for overlap and identify how they can improve systems to support each other. Provide opportunities for relationship-building, whether it’s through formal team-building activities, a just-for-fun field trip or an after-work get-together.

I motivate them to reach the destination, even when seas get rough. A good captain keeps the crew from abandoning ship. When things aren’t going smoothly, encourage people to keep going. Step up your energy and jump in and help. Curb your use of negative or defeatist phrases and replace them with positive language. Remind the team of the goal and the actions it will take to reach it. Help them make the most of the provisions – time, personnel, funds – they have.

I encourage risk-taking. Pirates had to be clever, bold and courageous to fight off enemies, get to the destination first and seize the treasure. In the business world, these skills equate to creativity, strategic thinking and risk-taking. Teach your team to analyze possibilities, ask thoughtful questions, challenge the norm and come up with viable solutions. Thank them for taking well-intentioned calculated risks.   Help them learn from mistakes and benefit from lessons learned.

I share the wealth. The valiant band got you to the treasure, so it’s only fair to share it with them. Give credit where it’s due, reward them for their work and celebrate their successes with them.

Is your crew loyal to you, or do they wish you would walk the plank? Incorporate the pirate captains’ best practices into your daily leadership, and they will soon be saying, “aye aye”!


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