I’m excited to post the next installment of leading on the seas today. So far all the posts have related to “wind” in some way, so I’m excited to go a different direction today. If you want to check out the other “leading on the seas” posts you can find a listing of them here.
When you think about leading a crew on the seas, one of the immediate issues facing the captain would be maintaining clarity, order and cohesion to keep things “sailing smoothly.” There are a few ways that this typically has been worked out, but one is “The Ship’s Bell.”
The ship’s bell is rung traditionally eight times a day and traditionally was used to synchronize the crew’s watches. It brought structure and order to a potentially chaotic situation, and gave shape and form to the daily grind of duties for the crew.
When I think of many leadership efforts today, including some of my own I think there’s often a lack of consistent and meaningful communication that results in clarity of roles and direction. There’s no shortage out there of communication that seeks to delegate jobs, issue policies, and share organizational “facts” of one kind or another. But there’s typically less communication that functions to keep people focused, keep them on the same page, and that helps them understand where their work stands in the bigger context of what’s going on.
The Ship’s Bell has been an alignment mechanism that aligns everyone to the same schedule and same flow. It also has evolved into a symbolic mechanism that rallies the whole crew together. The Ship’s Bell has often been used to baptize infants!
Leadership communication is such a significant part of facilitating community and also getting things done. I do marvel how often the things that need to get communicated so frequently do not in favor of a bunch of lower-level “stuff.” As leaders, we have opportunities to invest in the stability of our teams and communities and one of the best avenues to do this is communicating in a similar fashion as “the ship’s bell.” In fact, if we fail to communicate in this fashion, we will be facilitating the erosion of core values over time and vision will take a back seat to the tyranny of the urgent.
Today there are more ways than ever to communicate – though that doesn’t mean they are all effective or appropriate in any situation. We need to find the best ways to communicate with our people and be consistent in that communication and make sure that we are communicating about what is MOST important.
One caveat from the Ship’s Bell metaphor is that it is one-way communication. Nobody today can afford to take such an approach, so communication today always must include one or more return streams of input in return. But the point remains – we have to consistently communicate about what is most important because if we don’t we’re contributing to chaos over time and we lose the ability to keep action and work connected to core values.
One fact I found interesting was that it was frequently the ship’s cook and not the captain who had the job of ringing the bell throughout the day. It’s a reminder to me that communication can come from a lot of places and serve the same unifying and meaningful purpose as long as there as a good foundation has been laid.
I think some of why the Ship’s Bell took on symbolic status over time is because of the meaning that people associate with trust and consistency. The Ship’s Bell helped people trust that there was a greater meaning to what they were doing and it kept them focused and clear on what they should be doing and when they should be doing it. Trust is huge – and it doesn’t happen over time without consistent and clear, value-driven communication.
What are some ways that a leader can effectively communicate with his or team today?
How can leaders consistently keep their teams anchored in their vision and values amidst constant forces (internal and external) that seek to undermine them? Most leaders all think they communicate well with their teams, so why do you think there often is a disconnect? How do you guard against that?
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.