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Enduring Leadership Lessons from the Ocean: Culture
Jessica Watson
Posted May 16 2018

©ACEA/ABNER KINGMAN. Two-time Americas Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill.  

A culture of success on the water is supported by group ‘norms’ and requires team members to fully buy into the collective vision.

Harvard Business School Professor Richard Hackman (1) expresses what is now a widely held belief, that a vision or ‘compelling direction’ energises, orients and engages a team. Statements of such a vision or mission are commonly presented as an expression of a company or team’s culture. But when it comes to high-achieving teams on the water, it isn’t enough to simply have a stated vision; team members also need to fully buy into it.

Two-time America’s Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill believes that a ‘successful culture’ is only achieved when the team’s vision is prioritised over the individual's ego, when ‘all actions and decisions are based on what will help the team win, regardless of who is on and off the boat or what role they are playing’.

The importance of this commitment to a collective vision is also evident in Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff’s (2) investigation of maritime disasters. They found that survivors who were able to ‘fight the mindset of individual self-preservation’ and commit themselves to the group’s collective survival drastically improve their odds. Tim Jarvis and his crew’s successful re-enactment of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous 1916 Southern Ocean voyage is another demonstration of commitment to group survival, with crew members willingly risking their own lives while helping to better the odds of the group’s collective survival.

When it comes to building commitment to the collective vision, both Jimmy Spithill and Clipper Race skipper Wendy Tuck suggest that the entire team’s involvement in the initial development of the vision is beneficial. The process of involving the entire team in the formation of a collective philosophy was also used by the successful 2003 America’s Cup challenger Team Alinghi (3), who prioritised this before their intensive training programme began. However, in circumstances when the collective development of the vision is not possible, such as the late induction of a new crew member, Jimmy suggests that it is still possible for the new member to ‘buy in’ if the team’s philosophy is well explained.

With a vision set and the team’s commitment to it established, culture is then reinforced through what Richard Hackman (1) describes as ‘group norms’, or the behaviours that are deemed acceptable. An example of the policing of such norms for Team Alinghi (3) was the policy of removing ‘high-spirted’ or ‘trash-talking’ sailors from the boat. Or, for Tim Jarvis, a committed work ethic and the constant re-evaluation of processes during expedition preparations were established norms.

A few words about this blog series:

Sailing, whether for survival or competition, is an unforgiving business. The teams that excel in such environments provide a multitude of learnings for leaders back on dry land. So through this blog series, I’ve set out to explore some of the most important and universally applicable leadership lessons from the oceans.

Based on existing research, interviews with some very well-credentialed sailors and my own observations, I’ll be posting weekly, covering trust, communication, diversity, culture, leadership styles and team formation. I wanted to include a breadth of insight from the different extremes of sailing, so you’ll be hearing from legendary America’s Cup winning skippers, a skipper charged with leading largely amateur crews through some of the world’s most dangerous oceans, and a man who re-enacted one of history’s greatest survival voyages.

Occasionally I still see some of the concepts that will be covered in this series – such as trust and diversity – considered ‘fluffy’, nice ideas, luxuries that are secondary to a team’s core business. So by showcasing their importance in such punishing, competitive, life-threatening, and typically masculine environments, I hope to prove their worth.

1. Richard Hackman, Leading Teams, 2002

2 .Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff, No Mercy – True Stories of Disaster, Survival and Brutality, 2013

3. Wolfgang Jenewein and Christian Schmitz, Creating a High-Performance Team Through Transformational Leadership: The Case of Alinghi, 2007

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5 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank Jessica Watson
1996 Spacecraft 520 Review
Graham Lloyd
Deckee Pro  Posted June 14 2018

1996, August; Lake Macquarie: I've had the pleasure of testing several of Larry Wiltshire's Spacecraft fishing boats over the last couple of years, and have always come away impressed with their strength and practical design. Larry makes a point of understanding the use to which his boats are being put, and invests extra effort to accommodate the everyday, real-world demands of those uses in each boat.

Spacecraft boats are good looking in a serious sort of way, with a high quality (but not overly flash) finish. The hulls are built up to their gun'ls in a jig for accuracy, and then Larry finishes the cabin and interior as required for the owner's purpose. Larry designs all his own boats, and construction is carried out in his factory at Toronto south of Newcastle.

On a grey and rainy day, Larry took me for a test run in this 5.2 metre Spacecraft and, despite the weather (or even perhaps because of it), we had a great time as I put the boat through its paces and waited in vain for the sun to emerge so that the photos could do justice.

Spacecraft boats are built more strongly than most, and Larry used very solid 5 mm plate for the undersides of this 5.2, with 4 mm in the hull sides and 3 mm for the cabin. That helps explain what at first appears to be a quite heavy bare-hull weight of 650 kilograms, and it also explains the rock-steady stability of the boat in the water. For even further stability, Larry can build the boat with a centre tunnel that floods at rest. The bottom carries a constant 17 degree deadrise over the aft third or so of the hull, with a 650 mm wide planing plank to help get the craft quickly running over the surface.

On board, the cuddy cabin has a recessed footwell for extra leg room, and is fitted with upholstered seats and storage to each side. The helm position is reasonably forward to make possible a larger cockpit area, and is covered by a very well secured hardtop. Clears bridge the gap between the hardtop and the screen, and that was just as well on the day, as they kept us quite dry despite the rain all around. Two swivelling chairs with arm rests and pleasantly padded upholstery made Larry and I feel securely comfortable, and were positioned so that driving was just as good whether standing or seated.

The cockpit featured a huge insulated kill tank (or a monstrous cooler if you wanted to cater for a party on board) with a padded seat on top. Under the floor in front of the transom was a big live bait tank, and storage pockets ran down each side of the boat. Also under the aft floor were the oil containers for the two Evinrude 70s, while the batteries were properly mounted in their own boxes to either side at the transom. Not to waste any of that underfloor area, forward of the kill tank were two 150 litre fuel tanks.

The self-draining cockpit is quite deep so you'd feel secure even when lifting a big one over the side, and there are hand rails down each sidedeck along with rod holders and, in each stern quarter, good-sized bollards. Vertical grab rails come down from the back of the hardtop, and they are just where you'd want them to hang on whilst running offshore through lumpy waters. An eight-pack rocket launcher runs across the back of the hardtop, so there's no shortage of spots to keep the rods.

A baitboard is mounted at a practical working height above the transom. There is a boarding platform on the starboard side of the transom and a burley bucket to port. Between these were mounted the two Evinrude 70 outboards looking, like all twin-rigs, very serious and offering safety through resilience. Up front, the foredeck has its own rails and a nicely sized anchor locker in the forepeak.

The helm position suited me, with gauges clearly displayed to starboard of the wheel, and a very workmanlike relationship between the latter, the seat, and the throttle/shift controls on the side of the boat. There's a big flat area behind the screen where you can put all your electronics, with this boat having a Raytheon EchoStar 790 GPS Navigator Echo Sounder. This, together with a GME 27 Mhz radio and a Codan 8121 marine transceiver that were mounted in the side of the companionway into the cabin, showed the owner of the Spacecraft was quite serious about his navigation and communication facilities. It was pleasing, but not surprising in one of Larry's boats, to find a strong grab rail across the port side of the cabin top so the first mate could get a good grip.

At the wheel, you have the classic alternative of looking through the screen while sitting, or over the top of it when standing. The screen itself has a substantial frame, with toughened glass in the front panels and acrylic in the sides.

The owner had just re-rigged his Spacecraft with the two Evinrudes, replacing a pair of 50 hp engines. Larry recommends a minimum of a single 90 on the boat, but the design can take up to twin 90s if you want the extra grunt to haul big loads back home after each fishing expedition. The Evinrudes were still tight and running standard 17 inch props, but they quickly ran the 5.2 metre boat on plane and cruised with relaxed style. The Spacecraft swept through the wind-blown chop with a soft and predictable ride. Turns were smooth and as quick as you like, and the twins as usual made low speed twisting and backing very easy. Top speeds range from around 56 kph with a single 90 through 70 kph with twin 70s up to around 74 kph with two 90s on the back.

The only thing I didn't like at the helm was the trim button for the starboard Evinrude which, in the top of its throttle arm, was too close to the side of the boat for easy operation. Actually, I'd suggest wiring both trims through the port button so using it alone would get the outboards to the angle you want, then the starboard button could be used only if needed to correct any slight trim misalignment between the two engines.

Larry has a range of Spacecraft from 2.9 through 8 metres, and he can supply each craft at any stage from bare unpainted hull through to a fully finished, rigged, sea-trialed and ready-to-go boat. The 5.2 is more or less mid-range and typifies the style of boat that Larry produces. Strong and practical with sweet-handling performance, the 5.2 gave me a pleasurable run and that big kill tank in the cockpit personified the great fishing you could have on board.

SPECIFICATIONS

Length: 5.2 metres

Beam: 2.1 metres

Weight (approx): 650 kilograms boat only

Power as tested: Twin Evinrude 70 hp

Top Speed: 74 kph

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Was this helpful?Thank Graham Lloyd
Enduring Leadership Lessons from the Ocean: Trust
Jessica Watson
Posted April 23 2018

Cover photo: Tim Jarvis and his crew in the Southern Ocean, Si Wagen.

Introductory note:

Sailing, whether for survival or competition, is an unforgiving business. Confined in close quarters, crew members are utterly reliant on each other, and a heavy weight of responsibility falls on the skipper’s shoulders. The teams that excel in such environments provide a multitude of learnings for leaders back on dry land. So through this blog series, I’ve set out to explore some of the most important and universally applicable leadership lessons from the oceans.

Based on existing research, interviews with some very well-credentialed sailors and my own observations, I’ll be posting weekly, covering trust, communication, diversity, culture, leadership styles and team formation. I wanted to include a breadth of insight from the different extremes of sailing, so you’ll be hearing from legendary America’s Cup winning skippers, a skipper charged with leading largely amateur crews through some of the world’s most dangerous oceans, and a man who re-enacted one of history’s greatest survival voyages.

Occasionally I still see some of the concepts that will be covered in this series – such as trust and diversity – considered ‘fluffy’, nice ideas, luxuries that are secondary to a team’s core business. So by showcasing their importance in such punishing, competitive, life-threatening, and typically masculine environments, I hope to prove their worth. There is no place for ‘fluff’ on the ocean, so when these concepts are credited for survival or triumph in these extreme situations, I believe it is great validation that they are at the core of a team’s success and are not dispensable luxuries.

Vulnerability, responsibility and time are key to the development of trust among high-performing teams on the water.

Trust is perhaps the most heralded element of an effective team, and it’s therefore the most logical place to kick off this exploration of leadership on the water. Patrick Lencioni (1), an authority on team effectiveness from the business world, suggests that the absence of trust is a crippling team dysfunction. And it’s an observation that rings true in the most extreme situations on the water as well.

A study by Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff (2) of groups who have survived maritime disasters provides a rather grim example of the importance of trust. Survivor groups that demonstrated a total absence of trust, allowing the weak to die to save the strong, were less likely to survive. Tim Jarvis, an adventurer who re-enacted Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1916 incredible survival voyage, sailing from the Antarctic continent to South Georgia Island in an open boat, agrees that ‘trust is very, very important’ in such circumstances.

But while trust is an easily understood and straightforward concept, its establishment isn’t necessarily easy, nor can it be taken for granted. Patrick Lencioni (1) believes that an inability to develop trust stems from team members’ ‘unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group’. Tim Jarvis echoes this, stressing how critical it was that his crew members were open with him and each other during the years of preparation preceding the adventure. And in my own experience leading a youth crew in the notorious Sydney to Hobart Yacht race, I saw that it was only when crew members were willing to be open, even making themselves vulnerable by admitting their limitations, that a level of trust was established allowing us to operate as an effective team.

Then there’s a consensus among a number of successful sailing leaders that a notion to the effect of responsibility is critical to the development of trust. The skipper of two America’s Cup winning teams Jimmy (James) Spithill puts it simply, suggesting that trust is achieved ‘by giving responsibility and by accountability’. Another legendary America’s Cup winning skipper John Bertrand builds on this, suggesting that, ‘It’s how you conduct yourself. It’s a sense of authenticity. It revolves around honesty and integrity, transparency and communication.’

However, it’s also clear that these first two elements require a third thing: time. In the words of John Bertrand: ‘Time is fundamentally important, and the quality of time. You can’t dial up the concept of trust without time’. Jimmy Spithill agrees ‘it [trust] is time-dependent,’ as does winning around the world Clipper Race skipper Wendy Tuck. In her challenging role leading largely amateur crews through some of the world’s most dangerous waters, Wendy says that it’s the accumulation of runs on the board, over time, that allows the crew to have faith in her.

1. Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 2002

2. Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff, No Mercy – True Stories of Disaster, Survival and Brutality, 2013

Read more...
8 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank Jessica Watson
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