Q: Anonymous, Chief Stewardess:
"I’m four months in on my first chief stew role, and I know that my girls can’t stand me. I took over an existing team and at first I thought it might resolve itself if I just asserted myself and got on with it, but it’s getting worse. I hear them whispering, then they immediately stop when I walk in so I know they are talking about me.
They’re always resisting what I ask them to do, or telling me ‘that’s not the way our old chief stew did it.’ It’s making me really frustrated and I’m getting really worried as it’s making me look bad in front of the Captain. Sometimes I catch myself being really nasty and I never wanted to be that kind of chief stew! No wonder they hate me – but I don’t know what to do!"
A: The Crew Coach:
Oh dear! Sounds like a painful situation, but don’t worry, you’re not alone! It’s not easy being a new HOD, especially in yachting where you also live and socialise with your team members. Well done for seeking help with this as it’s really not likely to get better on its own.
This is a subject very close to my heart actually as, I know it sounds terrible but, when I first found myself in charge of a team of people I absolutely sucked at it. I first tried being everyone’s friend – which didn’t work because although I was liked, I was far too lenient and everyone walked all over me – and then as that wasn’t working I tried being really bossy and strict and that didn’t work either as nobody wanted to do what I wanted them to do, AND they hated me.
It was through the early learning I did to try and sort this out that I first became interested in leadership training. Putting some of those early techniques into practice and seeing them have results was an absolute revelation to me – it IS possible to learn these skills! And that is why I am now so passionate about helping others learn them, in order to make their lives and work so much more rewarding and enjoyable.
Let’s get one thing straight first: every HOD has dealt with being disliked at some stage; it comes with the epaulets. Having said that, it is possible to get people to WANT to do what you want them to without resorting to threats or nasty tactics. To start with, let’s have a look at your leadership style and give you some basic strategies to work through.
What would you say your leadership style is?
Are you strict? Or easygoing? Are you fair? Do you treat everyone equally? Are you moody and do you behave differently depending on how you’re feeling? Do you bottle things up or deal with them as they happen? Are you assertive, passive aggressive or submissive? Are you micromanaging, and not giving your team members any freedom or responsibility? Are you praising MORE than you criticise?
Where did you learn your leadership style?
Because there was no culture of encouraging leadership training in the yachting industry until very recently, most chief stews have learnt their style from their past chief stews… who probably didn’t have any leadership training either. It’s pretty inevitable then to pick up bad habits along with the good, and this nasty side is no doubt coming through from someone who was nasty to you as you were moving up the ranks. The fact is, you don’t need to copy someone else’s leadership style to be effective. In fact doing this can work against you as it usually comes across as fake anyway. Authenticity is essential for building trust, and without trust you can’t lead people effectively. So you need to decide what kind of leader you want to be, and then step into an authentic version of that, using your genuine skills and knowledge to back you up.
How does your leadership style compare to the previous chief stewardess?
It’s quite natural that your team are struggling to adjust if your styles are very different, especially if their last chief stew was very laid back and you are adopting a very strict style. But remember, your predecessor’s ability to be more relaxed with the girls is a sign of confidence - which is what you need to project in order for your team to have confidence in you.
What many people don’t realise is that throwing your weight around, shouting and being angry all send a subliminal message of insecurity to the people you are trying to manage. This unfortunately undermines your power, causing a vicious cycle. Yelling at people or trying to scare them into doing what you want only projects weakness, not strength. If you want your team to step up, you have to build them up, not put them down. If this has been the case, you need to reset the situation by showing each individual that you actually have their best interests at heart and that you genuinely want the whole interior team to succeed so that each person can also achieve their own desired end goals. Have a private meeting with each person on the team and ask them individually what they’d like to get out of their time on board. Share your knowledge with them and empower them to learn and grow (and enjoy) as much as possible. Too many insecure chief stews don’t share their knowledge enough, feeling that it robs them of their ‘power’.
Finally, if you have been a bit too mean, then you may have to be a little humble and apologise. You’d be surprised how effective this can be: it takes bravery and integrity to admit you’ve been wrong, and sets a brilliant example for the others to also ‘own’ their own part in the conflict. An apology goes a long way towards wiping the slate clean so that you can all move forward together and you can become the leader you’ve always wanted to be: surrounded by people who respect and support you. If you need more support in this area you might be interested in subscribing to our Leadership Advantage online training library – click here for more information. This library contains a wealth of superyacht specific leadership tools, techniques and strategies and will give you practical video training on how to deal with everything that comes up when managing people onboard a modern superyacht. You can also expand your learning with additional implementation support in order to fully explore and resolve any situations you are currently facing, swiftly and successfully. Good luck and keep in touch, let me know how you get on!