Crew Management

Being an Effective Leader and Getting the Best Results from Your Team

24 March 2022 By Kylie O'Brien

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

The dictionary defines leadership as, “The action of leading a group of people or an organization.” But in my view, leadership is so much more. It’s about building respect and relationships. Leadership is about having a clear vision of goals — and ways in which to achieve said goals. It’s also about taking responsibility for your team.

In the past, I have written extensively on leadership in both The Stewardess Bible and in Dockwalk. With this in mind, I’m approaching this subject from a different perspective: I’m delving a little deeper by examining professional and academic opinions.

Picture this: You’re halfway through the Med season and you’ve just tied up stern-to ready for the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which is set to begin within 48 hours. While all eyes will be on the glamorous movie stars, the fleet of superyachts tied up will also be on display for the world to see.

The Scenario

The yacht was delayed by a few days due to bad weather. The staging company is waiting on the dock for the yacht to arrive, ready to come on board to set up for the magical garden theme, which is to be hosted by one of the world’s most popular A-listers.

In addition to having the staging company on board, the interior must be prepared to welcome charter guests. You have provisions and shopping to bring on board, outsourced crockery and glasses, along with the extra wait staff that you need to train before the big event.

The last month has already been exhausting and extremely taxing. Filled with drama, illness, bad manners, and a rolling sea that made even the steadfast engineer seasick. Plus, you’ve received a letter of resignation from a crewmember due to interpersonal crew drama and the rest of the team is simply “over it.” There’s a hectic week ahead of you and you need to motivate your team and get them excited about the week ahead.

Achieve Results

Academic Mark Horstman is quite clear in his writing about being an effective manager in his book The Effective Manager, and there are two points that stood out for me. He suggests that to be an effective manager, your first responsibility is to achieve results and the second responsibility is to retain your people.

Let’s refer back to the above scenario: To achieve yacht objectives, the interior manager has a lot of things to juggle at one time. In this instance, it’s wise to have a clear, delineated list of responsibilities written out. That way your team can just get on with the job, or go into automatic motion, whereby little thought is required. The more detailed the list, the better.

In my experience, the more prioritization and focus you put into the list, the better the results will be, especially when you have a tight turnaround. You will also bring out your team’s high level of professionalism and individual characters will begin to shine.

Retain Your Team

Horstman’s second point for being an effective manager and retaining your team is a bit harder in the superyacht world, especially when the team is exhausted and emotions are running high.

Unlike land-based companies, where the staff have various avenues to let off steam, the crew on board a superyacht have limited options available for this purpose. Furthermore, while crew get paid handsomely for their efforts, sometimes money just isn’t enough to motivate them to go that little bit extra or to stay with the team if there is an interpersonal conflict.

“…retaining your team is a bit harder to do in the superyacht world, especially when the team is exhausted and emotions are running high.”

Invisible Forces

Motivational speaker and celebrity coach Tony Robbins says, “Effective leaders have the ability to consistently move themselves and others to action because they understand the invisible forces that shape us.” I think Robbins adds humanistic elements to his leadership teachings — to succeed as a manager, he believes you need to look at your team members as people and not just employees. Knowing your team well will give you some insight into how to get them to achieve the desired goals. Who are they, where do they come from, how do they communicate, what do they like, what do they dislike, why are they pursuing a career in the superyacht industry?

Furthermore, yes, they are paid well to do a job, but they are not your slaves. Listen to their ideas, leave them to do their jobs, don’t micromanage, and give credit with a simple “thank you so much” — especially when they go beyond their duties.

When you find yourself in a scenario similar to the one above, think about how you’d like to be treated in such a situation. Write out a detailed plan of action and leave it in the pantry so that it’s accessible for all your team to take action.

Have confidence in your team’s training and the level of professionalism everyone strives towards. Master your verbal and non-verbal communication skills by finding the right tone with each crewmember. Refrain from rolling your eyes or making large hand gestures if something doesn’t go to plan.

Lastly, it doesn’t take a lot of effort so remember to be kind to people, especially when you’re all under pressure.

This article originally ran in the October 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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