Four Leadership Rules of Sailing

Team-building is a much-talked-about leadership topic in today’s business world. While a lot of my leadership skills and practices were achieved through training, a huge amount of it came from my involvement with sporting activities throughout my life; football (quarterback), softball, baseball, umpiring and refereeing, physical fitness competitions and sailing.


As I was watching NASCAR racing last week, I took note of and remembered the team-building training of pit crews, who are key to racing success. In the span of less than fifteen seconds, pit crews can change four tires, refill the fuel tank, clean the windshield, remove litter from the front grill and repair minor damages. I particularly noticed the crew member removing a tire and gently rolling it away. While installing the new tire, another crew member quickly rolled or carried the tire away.

Everyone has an assignment and with methodical excellence carries out their individual tasks, in perfect rhythm with the other team members.

It reminded me of my experiences at sea, the dangers Mother Nature can inflict on ships and boats, and my personal sailing days. Sailing, regardless of the size of the craft, like a NASCAR Pit Crew, requires teamwork expertise and skill to safely sail a craft smoothly through the water.

During one of my sailing classes I remember the instructor, a retired Navy Captain with years of experience sailing his personal 40-foot craft around the world, telling us of the four rules of sailing. These four rules indicate the immense teamwork required to sail a craft, especially when part of a racing team, and can easily be tailored to leadership development, not only as demonstrated by NASCAR Pit Crews, but also in any work environment. They are also quite appropriate to modern team building and teamwork leadership.

Sailing Crew

Four Rules of Sailing

My sailing instructor explained the four rules of sailing in this manner:

Keep the people in the boat;
Keep the water out of the boat;
Don’t hit anyone; and
You have to look good.

Simple enough wouldn’t you think? I can tell you from experience, it is much more difficult than the rules imply; regardless of the number of people in the boat – i.e. on the team. Let’s look at some of the leadership skills required to follow these rules and smoothly sail – guide – your team to success.

►Keep the people in the boat – On the Team.

Take care of your people. Insure that there basic physiological needs are being met; maintain a safe and secure work environment; treat everyone with respect and dignity to permit a team-connection to the work group; create an environment of empowerment and creativity to build confidence and self-esteem; and lastly permit them to grow emotionally, spiritually and morally in a way that gives meaning and purpose to their lives.

Maintain constant training and life-long learning opportunities to improve personal expertise and skills that contribute to organizational and personal visions.

Create a worthwhile recognition program that instills confidence and creativity. Enable a path to promotion for those super-players with recognized capabilities.

In short, leaders values each team member as in integral cog in the wheel that keep the boat sailing toward its intended objective and the overall mission for success.

►Keep the water out of the boat – Protect them.

Prevent contradictory leadership from sources that disrupt the team and question the motive and legitimacy of the leader. Support them, go to bat for them, take steps to build team-member confidence and trust that says, “I trust that you made the right decision and that you are working for the good of the team.” Mentor them to instill a personal and spiritual connection to you, the leader, and to the team; make them feel like a valued member of the organization.

Help them problem-solve personal issues that prevent their total focus on the team vision and purpose. Take an interest in their well-being.


► Don’t hit anyone – Conflict resolution.

Conflict un-confronted is conflict unresolved.

Leadership must be ready and capable to resolve conflicts regardless of the magnitude of the problem. Leaders need to be skilled in relationship building with empathy, exhibiting a caring attitude about individual success and professional growth.

Create team accountability practices that enable individual team members to resolve internal conflicts – resolve disruptive issues at the lowest level possible.

Leadership requires a keen eye for disruptions in the personal lives of team members that interferes with their ability to perform at high levels of success.

►You have to look good – Professional appearance.

External perception is extremely important to the success of the overall team.

Looking good goes beyond physical appearance of team members. Looking good meant your professional appearance was sharp, neat and clean. Three-day-old, un-shaven 5 o’clock shadow is unacceptable in the business environment. Neatly trimmed and groomed facial hair can be dignified looking and promote a professional attitude.


Team appearance projects a professional customer service attitude that enhances the team abilities to meet the needs of the customer.

In addition, this extends to your physical plant, which to the customer indicates your team and organizational pride. Each team member looks good because they feel that the organization is an extension of themselves – their pride, their professionalism, and their desire to deliver top-notch customer service.

Leadership teaarrow - swirlsm building practices – just as in NASCAR and with sailing teams – is a key to organization success. Team cohesion requires a caring and empathic attitude to keep people performing at top-notch levels of performance.


One response

  1. thanks for sharing these tips. i am going to start Sail Manhattan within a short days.

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