Anyone who has ever seen a crew team rowing down the river has likely wondered why one person is a passenger and everyone else in the boat is rowing like mad. It would seem the coxswain has the easiest job in the boat.
It’s actually incredibly difficult and my 16 year-old daughter (who is a coxswain) has taught me a few great leadership lessons as I’ve watched her cox over the past few seasons.
As you run your organizations there are a few lessons you can take from her and apply to be better leaders of your teams as well. They’re counter-intuitive approaches to leadership but if you apply them well I think you’ll be very pleased with the results.
Those lessons are:
– Know your team’s needs at any given moment
– Small tweaks can have a big impact
– Being small doesn’t mean being weak
– Demand a lot from your team – they’re up to it
Here’s how those lessons can be applied:
Know your team’s needs at any given moment
Crew teams tend to have long days on the water and races can take them from elation to despair depending on how well they race. Great coxswains know where their team members’ heads are at. They know when the team is down and needs picked up. They understand if the team is stressed and they calm them down. They know if the team is excited and they channel that energy. A great coxswain pays attention to the team’s mood and adjusts their coaching accordingly.
Where is your team’s head at today? What kind of mood are they in? Do your coaching and leadership techniques take that mental state into account? Are you flexible enough to change styles quickly to match the mood of the team?
Small tweaks can have a big impact
When I first saw my daughter cox, I was completely unaware of the little steering movements she was responsible for by way of a hidden steering system. The adjustments she makes make the difference between winning and colliding with another boat. The steering corrections she makes by guiding the rowers to change stroke determine if they pull ahead in the race or run aground. Those changes in direction are miniscule but they have a big impact. If she overcorrects, it’s a disaster.
When you change direction for your team, are they small and subtle movements or massive changes? Do you gently guide the team in a new direction or do you make huge shifts all at once? Many smaller yet frequent changes are sometimes better and less disruptive than large shifts.
Being small doesn’t mean being weak
Coxswains are physically tiny. Like *really* tiny. That said, they’re usually the strongest member of the team in terms of leadership and direction. They have to get four or eight other highly-accomplished athletes rowing in perfect synchronicity. They also have to lead all team movements from the boat trailer to rigging to launch to recovery. A coxswain is always performing some leadership task to get the team to its destination safely and in a winning way.
No matter your physical presence or your tenure with the organization, do you take full control of the team at all times? Do your words and action carry weight for your team and get them moving in the right direction? Regardless of stature (physical or organizational) remember your team looks to you for leadership. Get over any hang-ups or insecurities then step up and lead.
Demand a lot from your team – they’re up to it
A great coxswain knows what the team is capable of. They push that team to row as hard as they can when the occasion calls for it. They balance between an even, steady pace and what is called a “power 10” or even a “power 20” which is 10 or 20 strokes as hard as the team is able. They push the teams as hard as possible when it makes sense to do so. And I’ve yet to see a time when she pushed a team and they didn’t step up regardless of how exhausted they were.
Do you know your team’s limits? Are you demanding of great performance? Do you push them hard when the occasion requires it? Are you unafraid to ask the impossible and guide them and cheer them along the way to achieving it?
Go be a coxswain for your team
Know your team and push them hard. Make small tweaks and changes in direction rather than taking a sudden herky jerky approach. Forget about size and tenure and let your leadership speak for itself.