Tugboat Leadership

LeadersAs 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?

4 thoughts on “Tugboat Leadership”

  1. I really love point #3- a reminder that as a leader its not about you! If you can subordinate yourself to the vision, tremendous things can happen. Also reminds me of the old political proverb: “You can get a lot done if you don’t need to take credit for it.”

    1. I love that quote, Lee. The version I heard was, “You can get a lot done if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

      Yeah, #3 jumped out at me looking at that tiny tug moving the giant barge. The barge is why the tug exists!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  2. Geoff,

    I love analogy. The power of the tug to guide the massive ship has so many branches but I think you nailed the three most important ones.

    A friend and fellow entrepreneur of mine are considering business consulting. I’d love to be the little tug that helps the ship through the complicated waters.

    Spot on!


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