"I'm the Captain Now!"

Sail along with us. This is part one of a multi-series blog event.

Last summer I took the trip of a lifetime.  I spent 9 days sailing through the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – which I would never have been able to do if it weren’t for my sister, Jess.  Because she’s a Mariner’s Captain, and served as the Captain of our boat I had unprecedented access to every detail of the trip.  Over the coming weeks I’ll share with you our adventures, the obstacles we overcame, the unforgettable people we encountered and the leadership lesson we’ll carry on forever.

I guess I’ll start in the best of places, the beginning. This is Jess and her best friend Jon.  They were our Captains.

Altogether there were 22 people who embarked on this journey with us.  10 on our boat, 12 on the other.  At sea we were two vessels but at port, and heart we were one (I know, I know, cheesy! But it’s true!).  By the end of this series, I think you’ll feel like you’re a part of our journey too!

This is just part 1 of a multi series blog event. In future posts you’ll learn more about the impressive boats, the incredible people and the life changing adventures.  For now, let’s get to the first lesson:

EVERY SHIP HAS ONE CAPTAIN, AND THEY’RE IN CHARGE.

When I first heard it, I thought, “umm, yeah.  Does that even need to be said?  Every car has one driver, of course every boat would have one Captain.”  I quickly learned it’s a simple rule, but incredibly important.  *For the record, because I was on Jess’s boat most of my impressions are from her

While most of us prepared for vacation… the trip we had waited years for, our Captains were hard at work.  Plotting our courses, planning our stops, ordering our groceries, and more.  Jon led the charge logistically.  The man is methodical, calculating, and strategic, yet humble, kind-hearted and welcoming.

Although the majority of our traveling took place under sail (meaning our sails were up and the engines were off) we still needed gas several times throughout the trip.  Because there are only so many pumps and boats constantly need to fill up, you generally radio ahead and the gas station lets you know when you can come in and where to dock. One day just as we were pulling up another boat took our spot. 

What I didn’t notice until later was just how difficult the task at hand was.  Jess remained cool, calm and collected.  She stood at the helm, constantly adjusting to the ever changing current and wake.  The current is the movement of the water naturally and the wake is the change caused by other boats in the water.

Because she is so skilled I assumed we were in auto-pilot.  Later, I learned that making the boat stay in place in a heavily filled marina, is like trying to get an airplane to hover like a helicopter. 

I was impressed by her ability to not only master a challenging task, but remain composed.  It would’ve been so easy for her to vent, or complain that this was such a hassle or cause panic to surge throughout our ship by telling everyone we might get struck.

I think of how this lesson translates into our lives in fraternities and sororities.  Sometimes our Chapter Presidents must handle a crisis like a Captain.  They need to remain composed, though they themselves may be panicking or stressed internally.  They rely on their instincts, and training to charge ahead.

When it comes to organizational management Captains and Presidents often seem to have their own languages… actually, come to think of it, they literally do!

Captains use nautical terms, that to most others, are odd or meaningless.  That rope?  It’s called a line.  The front?  Nah, that’s the bow. 

You may initiate your new members, others may cross.  New members might be pledges, or associates.  The important thing here is that your President knows the vernacular and they use it to the benefit of your chapter.

One more thing I learned about leadership from our Captain, is delegation.  I had the privilege to serve as First Mate on our ship (read: my sister forced me to be her right-hand man).

There are things on a boat that need to happen, but the Captain needs to prioritize her time.  Every time we are about to depart and set sail, we need to make sure all the windows are closed.  When we’ve moored for the night (think docked but at sea on an anchor instead of next to land), someone needs to pay the mooring fee to the attendant.  When the Captain needs fresh limes for her drink, someone needs to cut them!

Chapter Presidents know that their new members need to learn from their Membership Education Program, but they don’t have the time to teach each class.  They know that dues need to be collected but they can’t oversee all of the finances on their own.  They may want fresh limes too, but they’re on their own for that!

Delegation isn’t about passing off the work you don’t want to do.  It’s about knowing your limits and finding others to help you complete all of your necessary tasks.  Being in charge, as a Captain or a President, isn’t about being a dictator it’s about listening, learning and leading.