Leading Like a Ferry: How All Boats, and More, Rise

A quick read about leadership and a ferry…the kind that moves people and vehicles rather than wings and pixie dust.

Leadership can be intimidating. Depending on the environment, leaders can appear limited to those with healthy egos and Teflon® skin. Perhaps arrogant or narcissistic? Those who envision their legacy long before it’s been earned. What if the framework were shifted and successful leadership was instead measured via the success of others rather than the success of the one? Sort of “All boats rise” philosophy. Perhaps worth a quick read to consider.

All boats rise comes from…I had to look this up. Consider a ferry as a rising boat. In Astoria, Oregon, Tourist #2 (pictured) was one of the original ferries crossing the mighty Columbia River daily prior to the Megler Bridge. Not only did Tourist #2 rise with the tide, it carried many with her. Unremarkable yet incredibly effective. Consider leadership as an analogy – lifting others toward greater success and opportunity.

Google the term “leadership” and lists pop up describing traits, skills and behaviors to be effective. Many posts echo the outcomes of the one. While important, consider honing other skills which can be reflected via the success of others. Examples include:

  • Promotion within an organization
  • Advancement in another organization
  • Successful submission of original work such as an accepted publication, grant, policy, contract, model, etc.
  • Completion of a project within budget, on-time and on-goal

In each of the above examples, individuals who were responsible for, had the authority to, and accountability for each example directly earn recognition for success…and the leader who guided them stepped back. All…boats…rise. The leader becomes even more successful as individuals within their scope achieve success. Some could view this as altruistic – that in reality, recognition belongs to the leader. Perhaps for some yet the exponential impact of stepping back and letting others receive due credit could be far more valuable.

Some thoughts to consider:

  • Ask: about goals and milestones of others – know their strengths and areas of growth
  • Cultivate collaborative relationships: in all areas, not just research or practice
  • Network: link and connect others toward those goals/milestones
  • Nudge: when complacency sets in
  • Support when failure strikes: it is an opportunity for growth and self-reflection
  • Listen: when goals shift as new interests develop
  • Guide, shape and facilitate: effectively reach those goals/milestones

Finally, perhaps most difficult, don’t forget to step aside as their careers soar. They may leave and work for the competition. Yet, isn’t that what great leaders seek? The bar rises and all boats with it. In any field, innovations of the few raise the many and transform practice.

Challenge yourself and guide/shape/nudge someone else into that next opportunity. Navigate the waters such that all boats rise.