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Ask The Crew Coach - Our Leadership Q&A Column

6th Jan 2015

Camper & Nicholsons's Crew Coach gives Captains embarking new vessels invaluable advice on how to achieve a smooth transition with new crew.

Captain:

I’m taking over a new yacht, and I know from past experience there can be some resistance to a new Captain. How can I quickly get the crew up to speed with my way of doing things and take command in a way that won’t disrupt the running of the yacht?

The Crew Coach:

This is a great topic, as Captains taking over a new vessel can sometimes get off on the wrong foot with the existing crew, which can disrupt individual and team performance, and take some time to rectify.

The thing is, people tend to dislike change – and the arrival of a new Captain can bring up many concerns for existing crew. They may be fiercely loyal to the last Captain, or if he or she was not a great leader, they may even fear that you will be worse. They may be concerned about their job security, worrying that you will bring in your own team. They may be frustrated that it’s taken time to build up their reputation with the previous Captain and now they have to start all over again with you.

Bearing all these factors in mind will help you understand the reaction you might receive initially onboard and help you work to overcome any initial resistance by creating the best possible impression and working relationship with your new team from the outset. Never forget that as the incoming leader, the ball is 100% in your court – and your behaviour and attitude will absolutely set the tone for the team dynamics once you step onboard.

Here are some basic Do’s and Don’ts that should help you navigate this tricky time more successfully.

Do:

• Show respect for the previous Captain even if the crew are not very complimentary about them. Be aware that if you join in criticising a fellow Captain you set the precedents that: a) you discuss people behind their backs and b) it is ok for crew to criticise Captains amongst themselves. Neither sets a very good foundation for your Captaincy.

• Have a one-to-one meeting with each crew member to get their take on what needs to happen to get the yacht performing at its best. You will not only gain ideas about changes that need to be made, but you’ll also get a sense of the crew member, their interests and what motivates them personally. Listening to your crew and giving them the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions will help them feel valued and inspired.

• Once you understand what motivates each individual, work on providing that for them. It is your role as leader to know what makes your crew tick, and it will also give the crew the sense that you respect them and care about them as a person.

• Show them you are a real person by joining in conversations, having a laugh and a joke with the crew at mealtimes. Talk a little about your family and or personal life and what motivates you to do your job well and enjoy your yachting career. They are looking for someone to look up to and be inspired by, so trying to remain too aloof will delay them in bonding and engaging with you and could encourage more resistance to your ideas and ways of doing things.

• Get as much involvement as possible from the team in setting new procedures etc. There may be many new things you want to implement, so it’s important to make sure your crew understand not only the whats and hows, but also the whys. Without understanding the reasons for changes, your crew may resent them.

• Show you are firm but fair. There will be some crew testing the boundaries at this point. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t be a dictator either. Be consistent and absolutely do not show any favouritism. Make sure you walk your talk and follow your own rules too.

• Put yourself in their shoes and understand their position. They don’t know you yet. Remember back to when you were powerless during a leadership change: it can be unsettling, so give them time and don’t try to force the issue. They’ll come round eventually once they’ve had time to form their own opinions of you based on your behaviour.

Don’t:

• Be too aggressive about making changes. While you may be impatient to bring in your preferred ways, there will be some value in the existing procedures, and to make sweeping changes without due consideration could be viewed as an insult by the existing crew.

• Dismiss or belittle the previous Captain’s way of doing things. It creates a dangerous precedent and doesn’t show you in a positive light.

• Talk too much about your ‘wonderful’ previous crew. It could raise concerns that you may be preparing to bring them in and replace the existing crew. Show appreciation when talking about your former crew, but do it in a way that makes your existing crew want to earn your respect too, rather than simply making them resent these amazing stories they can never live up to.

• Be too autocratic. Yes, you are the Captain, and perhaps you just think they need to accept the change and do their jobs! But by throwing your weight around, you’ll just create resentment and delay them becoming loyal to you.

• Play favourites. This is very easy trap to fall into, particularly when you might be facing resistance from some crew members. Fairness and integrity are integral to establishing trust and authenticity, which is essential for you to receive the authority and respect you need to lead them.

• Try and win them over with grand gestures. A crew dinner is a nice idea to get them to know you, but don’t overdo it as it could seem like you are trying to ‘buy’ their loyalty rather than earning it.

Don’t expect miracles overnight, but if you adhere to the guidelines above and maintain a good balance of authority and personal connection, you’ll be working as a cohesive team in no time… and the previous Captain will soon be nothing but a distant memory.

by Camper Nicholsons

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Never forget that as the incoming leader, the ball is 100% in your court – and your behaviour and attitude will absolutely set the tone for the team dynamics once you step onboard.