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How to stay the course when you encounter rough seas

As you probably know, I love a good metaphor to illustrate ideas for your leadership journey. So this week, we are taking off to the seas.

Setting sail, or identifying your desired strategy, is the always the easy part. But reaching your destination, executing that strategy, is where teams can come unstuck.

It’s important to stay the course when you’re executing your strategy. It’s inevitable you’ll encounter rough seas along the way, so don’t be deterred at the first sign of choppy waters. Avoid the temptation to change course or give up on your journey too soon. And don’t sink the ship because you haven’t prepared for the rough seas in the first place.

Any journey worth going on will mean you leave the safety of the harbour. You’ll encounter storms – times when you wondered why you’re making the journey at all. How you navigate these waters can be the difference between reaching those golden shores you’ve set your sights on – or becoming shipwrecked.

Here are four things you can do to help yourself and your team stay the course when you encounter your own version of stormy seas.

1. Before you set sail, identify the likely roadblocks, challenges and risks you’ll face in executing your strategy.

Don’t just focus on the likely external risks but identify the internal roadblocks and constraints as well. These are the ways you tend to “get in your own way”, the unhelpful habits that you or your team tend to fall prey to. Like a clever crew who plan for the storms before they set sail, it helps to anticipate any issues you might face. “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

2. Return to your why.

  • Why did you choose to take this journey?
  • What are the benefits to you and others if you succeed?
  • What are the consequences if you don’t?
  • On a scale of one to ten, how important is this?

When you ask these sorts of questions, it reconnects you to your why. It takes you back to your purpose for setting sail in the first place. It motivates you to carry on when you hit those rough seas, reminding you why it’s worth enduring. It connects you to your initial conviction.

3. Don’t do it alone.

A captain of a ship doesn’t sail their ship singlehandedly. They rely on their crew, and so should you. What resources do you have at your disposal? Who are the people you can turn to for advice or practical support? Peers, coaches, mentors, suppliers and even customers can help you when you’re stuck. Access their support and wisdom. They can get you back on course.

4. Be patient.

We often overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in five. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Repeated small steps will likely get you to the finish line, rather than trying to do too much, too soon.

  • Are you being too impatient?
  • Have you forgotten to celebrate the small wins?
  • How far have you come and are you acknowledging this progress with your team?
  • What small strides, executed consistently, will move your boat faster?

The old voyaging fleets would anchor in a safe harbour to repair the ships and restock fresh food, fuel, and water. Are you doing the same, metaphorically speaking? Don’t burnout in your desire to get to the finish line.

Journeying into the unknown is the exciting part of business. But it also means you’ll need to dig deep. What strategies within your business have you used to overcome rough seas and stay the course?

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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