What a Disney Cruise Ship 1st Officer Taught Me About Leadership

written by  Ryan Seamons

I did not expect to learn a leadership lesson about accountability from a 1st officer on a cruise ship. But it was a treat.

My friend Emily Campbell and I hosted a new room on Clubhouse this week about mindful leadership. This first conversation centered on issues like the balance between autonomy and accountability, dealing with feelings of personal failure at work, and how to coach leaders so they give their teams more autonomy.

Lina Beckman, who has been a bridge member with a number of cruise lines including Disney, joined the clubhouse discussion and I’m glad she did. And I just loved the stories she shared.

white and gray ship on body of water

Here are three lessons we can learn from how cruise ship captains approach autonomy:

1. The role of a captain isn’t to do all the things. Their job is to make sure the bridge and ship are set up as environments where the crew can deliver peak performance. Read more about what a cruise ship captain does here.

2. Who drives the ship? Often the most junior member of the bridge team. Why? Because this is how they learn. They have close support from more senior bridge members so they don’t steer off course. The entire bridge is set up so that crew members can learn how to handle the responsibilities of captaining a ship.

3. Challenging is a common and necessary behavior on the bridge. Challenges encourage learning. They assume someone will self-correct instead of needing direct correction. Instead of “don’t do that?” or “that’s wrong!” they might ask “why did you that?” or “do you know what will happen if we continue on this course?” Correction can be given with respect.

It was incredible to hear her first-hand experience of being part of a cruise leadership team. It was obvious from Lina’s stories that she is a leader whose goal is to create other leaders. Her experience confirmed many parts of the conversation we’d been having about autonomy and accountability.

What could you change in your work environment to give more autonomy to those on your team? How do you think they would respond?

If you’d like to join the next conversation about mindful leadership, we’ll be talking on Friday (10am PT // 1pm ET). If you don’t have an invite to the app yet, I have 3 extra invites left. Just email me. Clubhouse is currently out on IOS.

About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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