Into the Storm
Leadership when the sky is falling
By Steven Martinovich
As anyone in management can tell you, there exists a colossal industry involving telling managers how to deal with real life situations by taking examples from extraordinary events and people. Don't know how to motivate your team? Don't worry, a former Olympic athlete, military officer or politician will have the answer. What goes often unnoticed that the atmosphere of the average office is somewhat unlike those found in athletics, the military or a caucus.
That isn't to say that there aren't useful leadership books that take their inspiration from extraordinary events. Into the Storm: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race is the epic story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart deep water race which saw a catastrophic storm hit and a number of lives lost. While many boats tried outmanoeuvre or outrace the horrific weather, the crew of the relatively small AFR Midnight Rambler decided to sail into the teeth of the storm. As Dennis N.T. Perkins and Jillian B. Murphy chronicle, it was teamwork and preparation which allowed the small 35 foot boat to survive waves the size of mid-sized buildings and win the race.
The first half of the book tells the story of the crew and the fanatical preparation they undertook to build a cohesive team. No detail was too small and no opportunity was lost to reinforce training. If a crew member had nothing to do they could polish the small stove used for the Spartan meals the crew wolfed down during a race. Each was expected to be equally adept at almost any job whether in day or night, in calm seas or apocalyptic conditions. It was well worth the crew's time and effort to submit to these demands given that the 723 mile race carried them through waters whose conditions ravaged other experienced crews.
And in 1998 those conditions struck with ferocity that few living had similar memories of. The storm that hit brought winds of over 100 miles an hour and caused waves 8 stories tall. The AFR Midnight Rambler would ride up those waves and then hang in mid-air before falling dozens of feet down. The boat had to be precisely steered to meet each oncoming wave dead-on, and few waves followed each other in any order outside of chaotic, or face the nightmare of being turned over. It took a near superhuman level of physical and mental effort to survive the three day race. And not just survive, but win. The AFR Midnight Rambler won the Tattersall's Cup as the boat with the best adjusted time.
From that recounting Perkins and Murphy move into the second half of Into the Storm and attempt to take lessons in teamwork and leadership that can be directly translated into the workplace. Anyone who has attended a few management seminars or received business case studies via email has likely heard a good number of them in the past – such as the need for messages that cut through the clutter, sharing of leadership duties, intelligent risk taking and intensive training and preparation for risks both known and unknown. They, and the other prescriptions, are all good ideas and all dependent on the willingness of management to actively implement them.
While that sounds like a tepid endorsement of both the book and the strategies that Perkins and Murphy enunciate, it is not meant to be. It is merely difficult to capture the depth and breadth of what they're trying to teach leaders without compiling a facile list composed of buzz words already seen in dozens of other leadership guides. There are a good many teams out there, whether in the public or private sectors, which could take some very important lessons of resilience, courage and preparation and bring them into their workplaces.
Readers of Into the Storm get two fascinating books for the price of one. The thrilling story of the AFR Midnight Rambler is alone worth the time of reading this book but a reader is also treated to insightful leadership strategies that can truthfully be translated by almost anyone into the real world. If only the majority of those motivational speeches and business cases could say the same thing they'd at least be worth the time and money spent on them.
Buy Into the Storm at Amazon.com for only $15.40
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.