Search

Your company is a rowboat!

Updated: Nov 19, 2021


Is your business suffering from high staff turnover?


If so, don’t feel bad; your company isn’t the only one. Recent research shows employee engagement is at dismal levels across the globe and low staff retention is one of the most visible and costly symptoms of this organisational epidemic.


The problem is this; we believe that if we pay our staff enough and provide them reasonable working conditions, then they will stay with us. This is a grave and very costly misjudgement; in the US alone, low staff engagement costs more than US$300 billion annually.


As the 'boss', we have three roles; command, management, and leadership. We must be competent in all three, and know when to use each one.


Let’s explore these roles by thinking of our business as a rowboat, and our staff as the rowers.


As the commander, we bear the legal authority to navigate the boat during its journey, and we need to make important strategic decisions along the way. We bear ultimate responsibility for the rowboat and the people inside it.


As the manager, we ensure our rowers have the resources for their task. We arrange the shifts, and make sure they are paid their salary on time. We set appropriate goals for them, and monitor the progress of our journey, making necessary adjustments on the way.


The last of our roles is leadership. There are many valid definitions of leadership, but one of my favourites is this; ‘leadership is the art of positively influencing a group to perform tasks in pursuit of a common goal’.


Leadership is sitting on the rowing benches with our rowers and getting to know them. It is learning their strengths and weaknesses, what issues they are having, and it is asking them how we can do things better. Leadership is authentic empathy, and a genuine desire to help every rower become the best they can be.

Leadership is creating an environment where our team is aware of how their individual contributions help our boat achieve the goal. It is leadership that causes our team to feel special, and to want to stay in our boat.



Most of us are promoted in the first decade of our working lives, and thus spend the rest of our career in a leadership role. If we are lucky enough to receive ‘management training’, we will likely find very little focus on what keeps our team in our boat - leadership. If we pick up a ‘leadership’ text in a bookshop, it will be filled with effective techniques to command and manage, but will teach us zero on the critical third component.


But it is ONLY the third role which will cause your rowers to stay in your boat; it is ONLY leadership which will solve your staff turnover problem.


Leadership is an art which is learnt and refined over a lifetime. I began my leadership training 30 years ago when I joined the military, and I am still an eager student today. Our leadership has an enormous impact on the lives of our staff and their families.


Make your impact a positive one.

32 views1 comment