So, besides an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation for the chance to sail in the Whitsunday Islands a few years ago, I also remember observing a wonderful leadership dynamic play out.
Remember learning the difference between “hard skills” and “soft skills”? The hard skills are the techniques, tactical steps, protocols, procedures, and other action steps required to get a task completed. The soft skills are the relational tools employed along the way.
There were two crew on the boat and fifteen guests. The skipper had just completed his sailing certification after many years of captaining his own commercial fishing boat. The “hostie” (everything in Oz ends in “ie” by the way) was a certified dive instructor, first aid instructor, graduate of a prestigious US east coast university and probably three other certificates. If I were to rate “hard skills”, the skipper was on the low side of competent (as evidenced by the sail not being quite “up” on our departure and the funny 360 degree jibe turn he tried to complete) and the hostie was (at least on paper) well certified.Hmm.
My observation though was that the hostie was a train wreck. Zero social skills. She got the meals out on time but couldn’t be bothered with engaging with the guests… and when she did it was to regale her exploits on various boats and adventures around the world. There were no introductions, no “breaking the ice”, no space to create any sort of community on the small boat. After a few hours the guests all pretty much left her alone. The skipper however was an affable kiwi who quickly dispensed with the “do’s and don’ts” and had a keen interest in whatever it was you were interested in. He had a short story for every topic and would skillfully open the door for the guest to share more. And, they did.It’s a balance isn’t it? The hard skills have to be solid. Safety first. We have to know what we’re doing. But it’s the soft skills that make the world work. It’s how we connect as people.
In the bar after the trip, I asked the skipper if he was open to some feedback. He said “sure, mate!” and I invited his curiosity about gaining even greater value out his natural relational skills with a few good questions along the way… he was enthralled… and we came up with a list:
- How about inviting some basic introductions? Name, hometown, how long you’ve been walking about?
- Perhaps a little pre-thinking of hopes for the trip… “So, what’s going to make this trip a win for you?”
- Conversation starters like… “The scariest place you’ve ever been…” or “The story behind your favorite bodily scar…”
- And at the end of the day, perhaps “what worked well today? What could have been better?”