Captain, First Mate or...

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**Second in a series relating to a recent “experiment” in succession planning

On a boat, it’s critical to know who’s in charge of the vessel and the crew. A clear line of command determines who makes the final call on a multitude of decisions at sea. People’s lives depend on it.

My husband has sailed since he was a child and on our boat he is our fearless Captain. He even has a hat with the title on it in case I dare to forget. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. He understands that ultimately, in whatever we’re facing, it’s his call – always. He’ll ask my advice along the way but I don’t take offense when he ignores it. 

Though we’ve faced many stressful moments on the water together (no one needs a dragging anchor at 2am in the middle of an electric storm!), I always hold on to the confidence that he is there to take responsibility for each decision we make. You’d think being cooped up in a 34’ vessel would increase any couple’s bickering and arguing but, when faced with keeping your family safe, we both know it’s better to remember what our hats say (mine says First Mate!).

In our current “experiment” at Vantage Point, one of the most important considerations was what my role as Associate Executive Director (ED) really meant in terms of that line of command. Was I fully responsible for making all decisions relating to both the organization (our vessel) and the talent team (our crew)? I wasn’t replacing our ED, Colleen, nor was I sitting in a second-in-command role. I was somewhere in between. “Oh dear” is right – this was going to be a bit complicated. So, in order to instill confidence in board and staff that someone was “in charge” on the management side, I took full responsibility for both vessel and crew – to a point. 

Colleen and I recognized that there were still certain decisions that would be her final call. Roughly speaking, decisions that had organizational-wide AND long-term implications were those I would take to Colleen (the Admiral?). In order to navigate these slightly muddy waters, it was clear to staff and board that all decisions came to me, and I took responsibility for identifying when I had reached the extent of my authority.

Though we didn’t quite have the same clear line of command as I enjoy sailing around the Gulf Islands, we did successfully provide the rest of the “crew” with the understanding and confidence that the buck stopped with me.

Are you currently experimenting with shared leadership and clear “lines of command”? What’s working for you?

About the Author

After working in London and completing her MBA at INSEAD in France and Singapore, Maria Turnbull joined Vantage Point’s team in 2006. Rooted in the not-for-profit sector through numerous leadership roles with the British and Canadian Red Cross Societies, OXFAM and Amnesty International, Maria loves...

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