The power of these two words – captain and anchor – became obvious in a recent conversation. A fellow leadership practitioner and I were on Lake St. Clair on his boat, and the more we talked, the more I started to wonder: captain or anchor, what purpose do they serve…and which might my people need more of from me? My mentor Paul Hersey taught me to always start with an operational definition.

Captain: “A person in authority over others…an officer ranking above…usually in command”

Anchor: “A source of stability or security…to bind one structure to another…to prevent or restrict motion”

Once I wrote these definitions, my viewpoint became crystal clear: People today need less of the former and more of the latter. What might your team want of you: a source of authority – or a source of stability? The ship’s captain or the ship’s anchor? My money is on the anchor. My clients tell me they too often look to leadership for stability and security and find it lacking.

What about the final definition of anchor: to prevent or restrict motion? How could this function possibly be a valuable part of leader effectiveness? The fact is, to do anything faster and more efficiently, you minimize movement. We’re busier than we’ve ever been! The leader’s function is evolving to become a resource who can eliminate distractions and unnecessary movement for their people.

Let’s do something different. Be the ship’s anchor, not its captain. Provide stability instead of authority:

  1. Reduce critical mass in your operational checkpoints. Pick one report that your people are tasked with – to eliminate or integrate.
  2. Specifically ask them where and when they want your help – and believe them. Don’t argue; spend your energy solving their problem.

Modern teams seldom lack authority figures; they more often cry out for clarity, stability and security. Be an anchor, not a captain. Reduce critical mass, and learn to ask and believe.