As I ran by the East River the other day, I saw a familiar sight out in the water: A little tugboat guiding an enormous barge through Hell Gate. Hell Gate is a narrow strip of the East River that’s complicated by tricky tidal currents and rocky obstacles. I’m always amazed at how those tiny tugs maneuver those massive barges down the river. It hit me that the little tugboat, dwarfed by the immensity of its charge, could teach us a lot about leadership.
3 Things leaders could learn from tugboats:
1. Small moves have big impacts. Unless absolutely needed, tugs don’t over-steer their vessels with dramatic movements. A little here and a little there is all it takes. Likewise leaders should be looking ahead, anticipating changes, and responding with strong, small moves to set their organizations on their best course.
2. There’s no autopilot. Many leaders seek to find a comfortable status quo, a place of rest where they can sit back and relax. There is no autopilot for a tugboat—or for a leader. Guiding an organization through ever-changing environments takes constant vigilance. The moment you think you’ve “figured it out” is the when you—and your organization—are most at risk.
3. It’s not about you. Tugs know that they exist to serve a purpose. Their job is to safely move vessels weighing thousands of tons through challenging waterways. Ultimately, as a leader, it’s not about you either. It’s about moving your organization, your employees, your customers, your clients safely through the hazards around them.
Who are the tugboat leaders in your life?