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A Captain & A Quartermaster

Date - 17 May 2017/ Category - Volume 2
Volume 2

There’s an old saying, I’m not sure who originally said it but often I find the old sayings are remarkably close to the truth when figuring out how to solve a problem.

I’ve previously written about how I don’t believe that leaders should “manage” their teams, instead advocating that real leaders are great conductors but what I haven’t addressed to date is that leaders often need a number two to help get the job done.

“Every ships needs a captain and a quartermaster; one person to tell them what to do and the other to tell them why they need to do it”.

I learnt a really valuable lesson last year, no matter how well you treat your employees they are never truly loyal to their leader, because simply put their leader often doesn’t pay their wages. If you were to leave your company tomorrow, how many of your team would follow you out the door into insecurity?

The truth is, while I’m an advocate of finding the very best staff and paying them above average with a great benefits package that makes them love their job, you simply can’t get too close to your staff.

Much like when you deal with your own children, if you build too much of a bond with your staff you won’t be able to step back and make the tough decisions when you need to. You need to be able to withstand their pleas for a raise, or a promotion or to deal with a problem in a way that suits them and that means while you can be their “friend”, you can’t be their best friend.

As such I’m an advocate of the captain and quartermaster approach.

The captain is like the football manager, the man ultimately responsible for the results. The captain is respected, often well liked but in hard times he has to cut members of his team and ultimately his decision is the final one.

Could you ever imagine a football player marching into Sir Alex Ferguson’s office to make a demand? It just wouldn’t happen, and yet on TV you would see him act jovially with his players. That’s the kind of relationship you need with your staff, one of respect and trust, but one where you can see them as highly skilled units in a machine.

It’s hopefully not often that you have to make a hard decision but none the less you need to be able to do it.

That doesn’t mean that your staff can’t have a best friend though. Much like the mum & dad relationship of normal families, if the captain is the stern father, the quartermaster is the loving mother.

The quartermaster’s role is to be the person that motivates the staff to follow the lead of their captain. While the captain might make the grand speech and define where the company is going, putting the people in position to make something happen, the quartermaster is the person who continues to push those people, while serving as a listening ear and wise friend when tough spots come along.

In turn the quartermaster feeds back what they need to to the captain, while maintaining the trust of their staff and leaving all those little momentary blips out.

People often confuse these two roles in a business. They think the captain can be that comforting shoulder, but expect the same comfort when a business decision doesn’t go their way. More often than not the lack of the creation of a quartermaster role is down to the captain refusing to delegate responsibility or share the perceived glory that comes with success.

Interestingly as the two roles require different skill sets you can often find that a captain isn’t cut out to be a quartermaster and visa versa. How many times have you seen great people managers step up and never quite cut it at the top? It happens to football coaches all the time when a manager leaves.

If your company has the funding to make it happen, finding a quartermaster for your captain can work wonders for your productivity.

Above all else it allows the captain to work on the business while the quartermaster works in the business and that alone will stimulate growth.

Read our next blog post “Don’t throw money at the cracks”.