I’m not much of a sailor, but navigating through the ranks of your organization is much like the rockiness a boat experiences in the ocean. The environment changes constantly, just like the waves, wind, and weather.

If you want to be successful in your work life, you need to understand the difference between the first class and the rest. So here’s a little boat story for you…

The Second Mate of the crew approached his Captain and said, “Captain, I think I should be Chief Mate.”

The Captain asked, “Why?”

Second Mate said, “Because I can do what the Chief Mate does and I think I’d do a better job.”

Captain said, “OK. Go to the bow and tell me what you see.”

The Second Mate went to the front of the boat. Looked out. He returned to the Captain and said, “There’s an island straight in front of us approximately two nautical miles. I think that’s our next stop.”

Captain said, “That’s right. Where should we land on that island?”

Second Mate went back again to the bow and returned. He said, “There’s a good spot on the northwest side of the island.”

Captain asked, “Are there any obstacles that could prevent us from docking there?”

Second Mate went to the bow again and came back. He said, “It’s appears as though there are some rocks and choppy waves.”

Captain asked, “If we can’t dock there, what should we do?”

Second Mate went back to the bow for the fourth time and returned. He said, “If we can’t dock on the northwest side, there appears to be a good spot on the northeast side as well.”

Captain said, “Good. Can you get the Chief Mate?”

The Chief Mate joined the Second Mate and the Captain. The Captain said to the Chief Mate, “Can you go to the bow and tell me what you see.”

The Chief Mate went to the bow and returned. He said, “Captain. There’s an island straight in front of us approximately 1.5 nautical miles. It looks like we have two potential docking sites. The primary one should be the northwest side, but there are some rocks and waves. The waves might subside by the time we get there, but if they don’t we should proceed straightaway to the northeast side. I prefer the northwest side even with a bit of risk because it will put us several minutes ahead of schedule. That will provide us some contingency in the event we encounter anything unexpected and the risk is minor relative to the reward. Is there anything else you need?”

The Captain turned to the Second Mate and said, “Mate, the reason you are the Second Mate and not the First Mate is because with all my duties I don’t have time to ask you all the right questions to ensure we get to our destination in one piece and on schedule. Furthermore, the Chief Mate can do my job in the event I fall ill while at sea.”

I’m sure you get the picture…

Survey. You must survey the situation. Look. Look again. Gather all the elements, variables, and internal and external conditions. Identify the static and moving parts.

Think. Ask yourself questions. What can I make of this situation? What can happen? What the best outcome considering the environment? What’s the worst outcome?

Prepare. Evaluate your next steps. Gather your necessities. Lay them out. Survey the situation again now that you’ve had a chance to assemble the pieces. Anything missing?

Anticipate. This means anticipate what might happen—to you, the team, company, partners, customers, and so on. What can go wrong? Do we need additional information? Do we need additional supplies?

Plan. Piece it together. Put it in motion. Most importantly, prepare a backup plan. Life is nothing more than executing one backup plan after another. I’m not even sure why they call them backup plans when they’re the ones used most often. 🙂

I’d love to hear from you: What are your keys to success?

If you enjoyed this article, you can find other wonderful tips and tricks related to life and work via my blog an the usual social spots at LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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