Life lessons from boat racing – keep your eyes on the prize

This is a follow up to an earlier post about roles – you can read it here but it is well worth expanding on, and it is the simple fact that when there is a lot going on you tend to get lost in the details.

The old saying “when you are up to you ass in alligators it is difficult to remember that your task was to drain the swamp” is very true, both on the water and off. Where I get tripped up on the water is allowing all of the things going on around me to distract from my job of managing the race and making good tactical decisions. I get to the end of a race and in the post race analysis that runs around in my head, I can always manage to do better and can always see where the wheels fell of the wagon (or prop fell of the boat), but in the heat of battle it is a lot more difficult.

The trick is to limit the number of things that you are responsible for to a manageable number, and then get people around you that can do the other things and then let them do them. Easier said than done, as you have a built in tendency to oversee, and that takes up cycles, which you may or may not have, and if you don’t it will come back and bite you at the most inopportune time. It is difficult and goes against all of the ethos of the “skipper” who is responsible for everything.

Off the water, this is also the same challenge faced by most small business owners, and is probably the biggest (well next to the economy) limit to growth. It is self limiting on both your business and your sanity if you can’t let go. So, plan and structure. Define the roles you need to have performed, give people their roles and then discipline yourself to a reducing amount of oversight. Once you trust people to do their jobs, let them get on with it and hold yourself to just enough oversight to ensure that things are proceeding well and no more. Your stress level will thank you and your results will astound you.

Life lessons learned from boat racing

I’m about to head out to my boat club for our weekly race around the cans that occurs every Wednesday. I’m a keen sailor and have been for many years, and have had mixed results on the race course.

For the first few years, I was learning the trade and spent a lot of time at the back of the fleet. Slowly my results improved to the point that I had a good few years as the club champion in my fleet. Two years ago I bought a new boat and since that point my results again have been less than stellar.

I’m not dragging ass at the back end of the fleet, but compared to the results with my old boat, there is a lot of improvement that still needs to be made. That had me thinking about what we need to do to get us back to the podium, and hence this series of articles. Each and every time you go out to race your boat you learn lessons. Some are given to you by other competitors, some are learned through making mistakes and some are taught to you by the weather and other factors that aren’t really in your control. Each and every one of them is not only applicable in the world of boat racing, they are also applicable in the wider world.

The list is long, and I’m sure that as I go through it, I will see more, but like boat racing if you don’t start you can’t finish, so without further ago I will get started on the first. They aren’t in any real order of importance, they are just presented as they occurred to me.