During a recent harbor walk, my 3 year old son asked, “Daddy, why is that boat going so fast?” I looked up to see a speedboat clearly ignoring the “No Wake Zone” signs. As I watched the wake from this speed demon violently rock the boats at dock, it lead me to consider the differences in leadership styles (you’re shocked, I’m sure). If your leadership style were classified as a boat, into which category would it fall?

Speedboat Leadership

Speedboat Leadership

Scott & Pals on His Speedboat

I’ve had the good fortune to ride along on my friend Scott’s speedboat many times. Speedboats have the ability to move very fast, create a great deal of excitement for riders and attract a lot of attention.

Speedboat Leaders: The same benefits may be seen in leaders who practice similar principles. Speedboat leaders always look great – decked out in the latest fashions. They move swiftly, often making organizational structure changes early in their tenure. As a result, stakeholders in their organization are often quickly excited while the media pays close attention.

Unfortunately, all that speed, power and excitement comes with a cost. Speedboats eat up a great deal of fuel in a short period of time. When Scott revealed the fuel costs from our first outing, I almost never returned for a second. Furthermore, speedboats can be very disruptive to surroundings. These vessels tend to produce larger wakes and break the silence of peaceful beach afternoons with roaring engines.

Negatives for Speedboat Leaders: These leaders often demand higher compensation packages many times the average employee’s benefits. Furthermore, their disruptive actions may call media attention for unfavorable reasons. Examples include unsustainable cost reductions or delivering shareholder benefits at the costs of customers and employees. As a result, the roar of the engines from these leaders and the wake from their waves may rock the wrong boats too far.

Sailboat Leadership

Sailboat Leadership

John’s Sailboat

John, another friend of mine, has a passion for sailing. He is often seen at ease in photos as he steers a large sailing vessel calmly and quietly through a sunset evening. Sailboats have a much lower cost of operation when it comes to fuel. Absent the large engines, these ships also fit in better with their surroundings by emitting virtually no noise and creating minimal wakes.

Sailboat Leaders: In a similar fashion, the sailboat leader is seen as one who is more quiet than their motor-driven counterparts. These leaders tend to fit in with their surroundings more readily as their actions leverage existing power sources for results, rather than injecting the environment with new people or tools.

Yet sailboats are not without their own negative attributes. Typically, these vessels move slower than motorized counterparts. In fact, to keep pace, sailboats often tack – moving in a zig-zag motion to capture the best wind. Furthermore, sailboats can not charge straight into a head-on wind. Instead, they must maneuver at angles resulting in slower changes to scenery.

Negatives for Sailboat Leaders: Sailboat leadership principles may take longer to drive results than speedboats. As a result, though overall support costs may be less, time may not be sufficient. Furthermore, a sailboat leader, who leverages the existing environment rather than forcing new conditions in spite of it, is less likely to attract attention to themselves.

Are You a Speedboat or Sailboat Leader?

Neither form is right or wrong. In fact, much like the sea vessels themselves, each meets different needs. However, if I were to suggest one aligns more with servant leadership in general, I must suggest sailboat leaders. Servant leadership emphasizes the need to serve all stakeholders and so adapts to the environment in a manner similar to the sailboat. Both leverage existing powers, such as the wind and employees, to adapt to a new future and produce new results. Whichever vessel you choose though, one thing is certain, you will find the best results by focusing on serving others, first.

Question: Are you more of a speedboat or sailboat leader? What about your boss?