A Tale of Two Sailors

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This week marks the first anniversary of Leadership Adventure. The time has certainly flown by quickly. Thank you for hanging in there with me this far. I’m excited for the future, and for what our collective Leadership Adventures hold in store for us during this next year. If you’ve enjoyed the content, please consider sharing it with some of your friends and co-workers.

Last week we met Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to successfully circumnavigate the globe non-stop and single-handed (alone). Sir Robin won the first Golden Globe race, which began in 1968 and finished 312 days later in 1969.

Today, at 84, Sir Robin still sails and runs an organization dedicated to helping people achieve their sailing dreams. He’s become an icon of what’s possible when we push the boundaries of skill and endurance.

Sir Robin – rightfully – garners most of the attention from that original race. There was, however, another entrant who gained notoriety – Donald Crowhurst.

While Sir Robin’s story is one of success and triumph, Mr. Crowhurst’s story resulted in the loss of his life.

These contrasting stories highlight four ideas which have great import for leaders.

Hubris. Humility. Respect. Preparation.

Hubris is an ancient Greek concept. It refers to extreme pride, self-confidence, and arrogance. In Greek tragedy, it typically resulted in the protagonist’s downfall. Today, it has similar meaning – excessive pride or self-confidence that often results in recklessness.

Humility is the polar opposite of hubris. At its core is realistic self-assessment, resulting in a proper understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

At the time of the race, Sir Robin was an experienced sailor who was appropriately confident and determined. In fact, out of 9 contestants, he was the only one to finish.

His buget was tight, yet his preparations were thorough and meticulous, demonstrating his understanding of the magnitude of the challenge and respect for the sea. His boat, Suhaili, was a sturdy, seaworthy 32 foot ketch which he still owns today.

Mr. Crowhurst, in stark contrast, approached the race recklessly. With virtually no sailing experience, he joined the race to publicize his failing business and to save face with his family and friends.

His boat, a trimaran, was hastily built, never sea-tested or outfitted to a safe standard. His hubris led him to believe that he could jump on board and successfully circumnavigate the globe.

Only days into the race, he realized he’d never make it. He began falsifying his progress, creating the illusion that he was winning. Over time, he began to face increased scrutiny as race organizers realized that he could not possibly be where he claimed.

The stress of maintaining the deception led Crowhurst to suffer a mental breakdown. His boat was found adrift in the Atlantic with his last log entry: “I have no need to prolong the game. It is finished – It is finished IT IS THE MERCY.”

His body was never found. It is presumed he committed suicide by jumping overboard and drowning. He left behind a wife and four children under 10.

Sir Robin, upon learning of Mr. Crowhurst’s fate, donated his prize money to the family.

Here’s some food for thought:

Hubris – are you reckless in your leadership? Perhaps “rolling the dice” a little too often with your own life and the lives of those you lead?

Humility – do you invest time in realistic self-assessment? Do you have others in your life who can honestly challenge you in this area?

Preparation – do you give proper weight to the responsibilities and challenges that lay before you? Or do you make it a habit of rolling in at the last minute not fully prepared?

Respect – do you have the proper respect for yourself and those you lead? Influence over others demands good stewardship. Do you give it the weight it deserves?

I’ve been guilty of hubris in the past. Today, I’m happy to follow in the footsteps of Sir Robin.

Pictured above: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. Pictured below: Donald Crowhurst.

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