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Amazing Results.. If We Just Empower Them!

September 26, 2013
Tall Ship Balclutha, San Francisco Bay

Tall Ship Balclutha, San Francisco Bay

School is back in session and that means field trips are in full swing! Every time I chaperone a field trip, I learn something; and most of the time, I can apply it to the work I do in leadership development. This time, I learned more than I ever dreamed.

I accompanied a class of 6th graders aboard the tall ship Balclutha on the San Francisco Bay. This educational, overnight outing takes them back in time to the 1906 earthquake. The kids become the crew. The eleven-year-olds are arranged in teams with a first mate as leader of the other mates in the crew. Each adult chaperone a.k.a. tall sailor is assigned to a group with strict orders to not interact with the kids. We are only there for safety, with AVAST our only spoken word.

Trained educators play the role of Captain (grouchy), First Mate (strict & mean), Second Mate (pal to crew members) and Cook (goofy). They give instructions to the first mates that are often curt and hard to interpret. The kids have to figure it out. For 18 hours, they learn the workings of the ship and how to be self-reliant. While learning to cook, raise the sail, lower the dorey, and mop the deck, they also learn teamwork, respect, leadership and delegation. The kids serve as the nightwatch crew, rotating and waking a new crew every ninety minutes throughout the night. The kids are tired, but it’s not a bad gig under the light of a full moon rising above the Golden Gate Bridge.

As a tall sailor, not being able to jump in and help was challenging to say the least, especially since I was assigned to the Galley Crew which was responsible for making the meals and feeding the entire crew! What I observed was magical. Kids were plopped into leadership roles and had to give “orders” to their (class)mates. Some were uncormfotable at first. Others had trouble delegating the task and wanted to just do it themselves. But over time, they rose to the occasion. They built trust, applauded each others’ efforts and came together as a team. By morning, leaders were delegating, teams were gelling and crews were helping other crews… when no one asked them to!

For me, the takeaway is that we are all much more capable than we realize. People will figure things out if we just let them problem-solve and find the answers. They will also feel really great about the accomplishment once they’ve gone through that process. Likewise, volunteers are more capable than we realize. You’ve got leaders in your organization. If you’ll just let go and let them do the work, they will surprise you. The result will be more dedicated and committed volunteers because they feel they are part of the solution. Like onboard the Balclutha, amazing things happen if we just empower our people!

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