“If we get lost we’ll just pull in somewheres and ask directions.”

– Captain Ron

Navigating a person back on course is one thing. Navigating an organization back on course is something else. That takes leadership from the captain and buy-in from the crew. Pirate ships were unique because they were democratic. Unlike military or merchant ships whose captains were appointed by the navy or merchant owners, pirates elected their own captains. And if they felt the acting captain wasn’t living up to the job, a vote could be held among the crew to appoint a new captain. As such, there was often more harmony within pirate crews since most everyone got fair treatment and a fair share of money made from successful voyages.

As it also turned out, there was often a very fine line between a crew of a merchant ship and a pirate ship. Life as a merchant sailor was hard enough, but sometimes the cruelness of merchant captains would push the crew to mutiny and those captains would be dispatched from not only their positions but also the breath in their lungs. At that point, the hangman’s noose was waiting for the crew anyway, so why not hoist the black flag and take your chances at making your fortune?

What’s also not understood in popular culture, is that pirates typically tried to avoid fighting if at all possible. Sea battles meant injured and killed crew members and the costly expense of repairing damaged ships. Nobody really wanted that. Mostly pirates hunted and captured their prizes through a show of force and intimidation. Pirate crews were often larger than merchant crews and often had more ships and so they would first give the merchant ship a chance to surrender and the captains of those ships often would do just that. In addition, if the captured ship was kept and added to the fleet or the pirates needed more men, the pirate crew would often give the merchant crew a choice to join them. And for many, that was an easy choice to make.

When it comes to organizations, it all depends on what kind of ship you’re on and whether you’re the captain or a deckhand on what options you have. If you’re the captain, then the steps I listed before hold true to righting the ship and finding your way. Times and conditions change and sails must be adjusted for the wind that blows. But the original mission, the original purpose, must be kept in mind and those sails must be adjusted and the crew must be trained and trusted to fulfill that purpose before anything else. The song of sirens may be beautiful to hear, but they’ll lead you to your doom.

However, most of us aren’t dining with the captain. For the rest of us, it often doesn’t matter how well we do our jobs. We may actually be just accelerating our own demise. I’m sure the guys feeding the boilers of the Titanic where doing a superb job. If your captain is telling you to row toward the rocks, you always have the option to stop rowing. Besides waiting to see if things get back on course, mutiny or jumping ship at the next port may be your best options.

But before you blame the captain, check yourself and make sure it isn’t your own values that have changed. Many of us are hungry and eager early on in our lives, but years go by and burnout sets in and anything that disrupts our routine irritates us. If that’s the case, we either need to find a new way to love what we do or find a better boat. Just don’t stay too long.

That being said, sometimes you find yourself on a boat with a captain who doesn’t know where to go and the crew on board have enough experience to know that the ship is going down if it continues on this course.

A good captain goes down with the ship. So a good captain makes wise choices to do everything in his power to keep that from happening. But a poor captain makes excuses, forgets the mission, and all efforts turn to self-preservation. The leadership get lifeboats and the crew goes into the water. The loyalty of the leadership of a failing organization is often far less loyal to its crew than it expects of their loyalty in return.

So sometimes, hoisting the black flag is the best plan for the crew and remaining true to your purpose.