I recently went on a long boat ride to the middle of nowhere. The ship was very well run. Because of the tight space, everything had a clear place. Everyone knew their jobs well. Whether pulling into port or fishing, the crew all knew what had to be done to run the process. They fixed broken items. They cleaned, maintained, and kept the ship organized. They prevented and prepared for any future potential issues.
When the boat was running in clear skies and calm waters, it was interesting to watch. Observing the captain, it was amazing how often he appeared to be doing close to nothing. The boat was on autopilot for long periods of time while he just sat there. The process and systems were so solid, he did not need to do much. Over-steering would have just made the ride rougher and less efficient.
When things got rough, it was a different story. When a storm blew in, or the waves were huge, or we hit dangerous waters with rocks and reefs to watch out for, he had to jump in and ensure that everyone was protected. There were rough nights where he and the crew did not sleep, in order to keep the boat and passengers safe.
This struck me as a good analogy for what a leader should be.
When someone is new to a job, or a company takes on new business, there can be periods of intense work. Leaders need to make sure everyone gets through it. However, that should not be the normal state. The goal of a leader should be to set up the process and empower their team so people do not need to work 18-hour days, nor live in a state of “fight or flight.” People will burn out if that state goes on too long. There is always the need for preparation, improvement, and maintenance, and the goal should be smooth sailing most of the time.
Of course there will occasionally be tough times. As a leader, I want to know that my team is WILLING to do whatever it takes to keep our clients happy and the company running smoothly in these times. I want to know that the long days and “do anything to succeed” drive are in someone, but they should strive to not have to use that drive frequently. Our goal should be to get through the tough times, and keep improving our systems so those tough times happen less and less often.
Process and resourcefulness. A leadership needs to navigate both.