Faithfully yours - Good leaders know when to follow


Neil Strohschein
Neepawa Banner & Press

In this part of Canada, we rely on trucks and trains to move raw materials and manufactured goods from one place to another. Even though freight rates have increased significantly over the past few years (thanks in part to fuel surcharges and other taxes), trucks and trains are still the most efficient way to move goods from coast to coast.But in some parts of Europe, conveying goods by truck or train can be expensive and time consuming. For example, a drive from Stockholm, Sweden to Hamburg, Germany could take four days, maybe longer. There is only one route—west from Stockholm into Denmark; then south through Denmark into Germany and east to Hamburg. The trip by rail could take even longer; as freight trains in Europe are short and don’t have priority on the rails like they do here.

Fortunately, an alternative is available. Truckers heading to Germany can travel south to the Swedish port of Trelleborg. There they will board a ferry for an eight hour trip across the Baltic Sea to Travemunde, Germany. From there, it’s roughly a three hour drive into Hamburg. Three ferry lines (Stena, TT and Unity) operate out of Trelleborg. The ships themselves are huge. Some are equipped to carry rail cars. The rest carry trucks, cars and people. They operate on a tight schedule so unloading and reloading must be done as quickly as possible—and it is, thanks to a highly trained and very efficient group of deck hands who staff each ferry.

These deck hands can unload and reload the biggest ship in the fleet in less than two hours. But don’t ask them to go below deck and fix an engine or report to the bridge to steer the ship. That’s not their area of expertise. Pilots and navigators steer the ship. Mechanics and engineers keep the onboard systems running smoothly. Cabin attendants and food service personnel make sure the passenger areas are clean and that tasty meals are prepared for those on board.

The Captain is in charge of the ship. His job is simple—make sure the ship leaves its port of origin on time and arrives at its destination on time with ship, cargo, passengers and crew intact. He is always on the alert, looking for anything that might put his ship in danger. He has no time to tell a mechanic how to change oil in an engine, to tell a chef how many teaspoons of salt to put in a large pot of soup or to tell a deck hand how much space to leave between parked vehicles.

A good Captain trusts his crew to do what they have been trained to do. They trust him to keep them on time and on course while at sea. They know they can go to him if they need advice; and he knows he can go to them if he encounters a problem he can’t solve. He may be in charge of the ship, but he doesn’t know everything. A wise Captain knows when to assert his authority and when to allow others to lead in areas where they have greater expertise.

Theirs is an example all leaders should follow. We don’t need micro-managers in positions of political, business, community or religious leadership. What we need is people who will respect the expertise of those they lead, seek counsel from them and follow their advice when necessary. You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers to be a good leader. Good leaders know when to follow.