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Powering the Rise of Strong Leaders

Never has it been more important to equip managers on board with the skills to become strong leaders.

Following on from OnboardOnline’s recent article about the rise of female captains, the ability to encourage and aid strong leadership in crew regardless of their starting position on the yacht is vital to improving crew communication, cohesiveness, team efficiency and ultimately, the guest experience on board.

While managers abound in the industry, a manager does not necessarily make a good leader, yet with the right training and support, it’s possible to help a manager grow successfully into a leadership role.

"It’s true that many managers do not naturally possess good leadership skills," agrees Lynne Edwards, Insight Specialist at Luxury Hospitality. "Managers generally manage subordinates and take responsibility for situations whereas leaders take charge, set examples by their own actions and behaviour and have people who are happy to follow them.

"The main difference between managers and leaders is that leaders are more focussed on the people aspects of their roles; they lead by influencing people who work for them, by inspiring their teams, recognising and focusing on their strengths and encouraging their teams to succeed.

"Managers are more work-focused, they tend to be more controlling and procedure-orientated than leaders."

Equipping managers on board with the skills to become leaders is vital, according to Martin Mainey, LH’s Head of Leadership and Coaching, who believes that good management is not possible without good leadership skills.

"Good managers get the systems and processes lean, clear and well organised but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can create high performing teams. Strong leaders bring people with them and have a clear vision and skill to understand and motivate people and make them feel valued in what they’re doing.

"They make people feel part of a high performing team and that they are winning when they come to work. That’s the big skill leaders possess which is critical and different to what good managers might have."

While life on board a superyacht sounds like a dream, the reality of living and working in the same place, eating together and sharing a cabin can be stressful, particularly if there isn’t harmony on board and tensions become frayed.

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"Performance is impacted and people leave," adds Martin. "Great leaders are good at reading and understanding people and when the team feel valued and safe, they stay. Just being good at management is not enough. Leaders bring people skills and make the difference between a yacht where people are happy and providing great service compared to people staying because the salary is good but the harmony and morale is lacking. Leadership makes that difference.

"Great managers need leadership and people skills; if you don’t know how to bring people along, the systems and processes are pretty much useless. The ability to connect and develop strong relationships, reacting proactively and managing conflict effectively is essential.

"It’s possible for anybody to become an outstanding and strong leader with the right training but if they come from a perspective of ‘do as I say’, they will not become a great leader despite any amount of training," adds Martin. "A people-centric, human-centric approach that values people and is motivated by unlocking potential rather than telling people what to do is what’s required to become a great leader."

Impact Crew founder Karen Passman agrees. "Poor leadership is a primary reason for crew turnover, evidenced by our crew turnover survey in 2015, although the industry’s perception at the time was that money will solve the problem," says Karen, a leadership expert who delivers Helm Operational and Management for UKSA and was part of the design team when GUEST brought leadership onto the books. 

"Thankfully that is changing now. Leadership has always been there as far as the maritime sector is concerned. It’s not new, it’s long been recognised; when you look at the amazing mariners of the past like Columbus, Cooke and Nelson, the thing they were exemplified for was their leadership. 

"However, encouraging the interior to take foundation and advanced leadership through the IAMI/GUEST programme is relatively new."  

LH’s Advanced Leadership Programme is aimed at chief stews and pursers as well as other HoDs and managers on board. A stepping stone for the GUEST purser Certificate of Competence, the course involves eight hours of one to one tuition with Martin Mainey and  can be taken online or face to face.

Key modules include development of self-leadership, empathy, approachability, motivation, influencing others and mediation of conflicts. Communication challenges and feedback, proactive time management, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, emotional intelligence, mentoring and supporting others, team dynamics and coaching are also taught to satisfy the IAMI/GUEST requirements and students have access to the platform for 12 months.

"We start with self-leadership and work through team leadership and managing small teams," explains Martin. "There are also other programmes you can access to extend your learning plus lots of material for giving great presentations so it’s a great deal more than just the Advanced Leadership Programme.

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"Once you finish that, you have 12 months to play with further high quality interactive material. I worked with a chief stewardess in quarantine recently who wanted to complete the course in two weeks, which is the minimum timescale, but it can be done. Equally, it can be spread out over 12 months, and the joy of online is you can start it when you like, from your cabin and progress at your own pace."

Lynne believes that a good starting point for managers is to develop their human skills – or ‘soft skills’ – of empathy, self-awareness, self-management and communication. "They should follow a personal development path and learn how to read people and develop those they are leading. These skills create the conditions for the engagement, happiness and high performance of the team.

"When leaders invest in the wellbeing of their team with empathy, understanding and conscientious communication, the team thrives, trust is built and they are more willing to go the extra mile."

So what are the key first steps to developing from a good manager to a great leader on board?

"They must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and why, and translate that to the team so that everyone has a common goal," says Lynne.

"They must demonstrate integrity, honesty and a conscientious work ethic. Leaders must also be able to recognise the strengths and challenges in themselves and others and ensure that their inherent talents and skills are fully optimised. Every contribution should be recognised and all successes should be celebrated as a team."

"Great leaders can be made through training and then experience," adds Martin. "There is no substitute for practise, practise, practise, and managers will have the opportunity to do this in a day to day role."

Creating a strong and bonded culture from the very top is vital, according to Karen. "The old adage is you join an organisation, but you leave your manager. You join a boat for everything it promises and you leave your seniors or the culture on board, which is driven from the master down through the seniors on board. 

"You have generation Z joining the boats now. We haven’t worked them out yet but they will probably place as much if not a greater demand on the skills of the leader as the Millennials. Millennials require us to step up as leaders because if we don’t, they’ll move on."

There’s a host of benefits involved in taking IAMI/GUEST approved leadership courses but the chief motivator in each student has to be a desire to progress and improve.

"It’s so important to get the best leadership we can on the yachts," adds Karen. "It doesn’t matter whether that’s deck or interior, it needs to be throughout the vessel and this is a great starting point for crew stepping up and starting on their leadership journey. 

It’s really important for individuals to reflect on their leadership strengths and areas of development and regularly look to improve themselves, whether through courses, one to one coaching, a mentor, regularly obtaining feedback or reading on the subject.

"The aspiration would be that it’s commonplace to undertake some form of regular leadership development, whether that be for the entire senior crew or individually. You never stop learning how to be a better leader."

Chief stew Melissa Smith recently completed LH’s Advanced Leadership Programme and was thrilled with the results. "The ALP course met all criteria necessary for me to complete the GUEST Leadership Unit 22 programme, but it gave me so much more," she says.

"Online learning was easy to follow and access, the material is relevant and powerful and Martin was a fantastic trainer. His passion for leadership and mentoring is pure and he knows how to listen empathetically. These are life skills you are learning and I would recommend this course to everyone, not just people in managerial positions."

PayPal chairman and Nike CEO John Donahoe captured the essence when he said: "Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a process, not an outcome."


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