Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 5;   January 30, 2002: Become a Tugboat Captain

Become a Tugboat Captain

by

If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.

If you're responsible for monitoring compliance with organizational policy or government regulation, you sometimes tell people who have organizational power that they must stop doing what they're doing, or that they must do something differently. This can be risky or even downright dangerous. How can you manage it safely?

A tugboat at workEven if your organization is serious about dealing with noncompliance, those not in compliance can see you as the problem. Instead of taking corrective action, they might try to curtail your authority, restrict your resources, attack you personally, or even terminate you.

To be most effective, become a tugboat captain.

Tugboats are small, powerful vessels that maneuver ships much larger than they are.

Large ships can apply tremendous forces fore-and-aft. But most large ships have relatively little ability to exert transverse forces — the very forces they need if they want to change direction.

If you monitor compliance
with policy or regulation,
become a tugboat captain
Tugboats aren't powerful enough to start or stop a large ship quickly, but they can control the large ship's direction. They rely on three strategies. They work with the harbor pilot on the bridge, they work in teams, and they focus on direction, not speed.

If you monitor compliance with policy or regulation, what does it mean to be a tugboat captain?

Know your vessel
Know that you're on a tugboat, not a large ship. You can't float the weight they do, and you can't survive the high seas like they do. You do have tremendous power for your size, and you're very maneuverable. Knowing your strengths and limitations is a key to survival.
Know the harbor
Know every shoal, channel, and wharf in the harbor — and every mistake other tugboat captains have made. Know just as much about the ships you maneuver. This means that you know the regulations or policies that you're responsible for monitoring, and you know the strengths and limitations of the managers who must comply.
Work with other tugs
Tugs usually work in teams. They rely on each other and use each other as resources. Work closely with others who monitor compliance. Share techniques and learn from each other. Coordinate action.
Get cooperation from the bridge
During tight maneuvers, a harbor pilot commands the ship, coordinating with tugs. Secure the cooperation of management at all levels near the level of the manager you're monitoring. Especially important: a solid and trusting relationship with your own manager.
Focus on direction, not speed
Tugboats aren't so good at starting or stopping large ships — instead, they try to steer them, while the ship provides fore-and-aft power. Let the manager you're monitoring provide the impetus and power for change, while you focus on the direction of the change.

Consider buying a toy tugboat for your desk. Only you and I will know what it means. Go to top Top  Next issue: Are You Taking on the Full Load?  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin (left) with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan GreenspanThe Paradox of Confidence
Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated. If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
U.S. Unemployment Rate in percentFinding Work in Tough Times: Strategy
If you're out of work and discouraged — or getting there — you're in great company. Better than ever before. Getting back to work starts with getting to work on finding work. Here's a collection of strategies for the job of finding work.
A map of the Internet ca. January 2005Intentionally Unintentional Learning
Intentional learning is learning we undertake by choice, usually with specific goals. When we're open to learning not only from those goals, but also from whatever we happen upon, what we learn can have far greater impact.
Fugu Rubripes, the Fugu fishEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: I
When we address others, we sometimes use filler — so-called automatic speech or embolalia — without thinking. Examples are "uh," "um," and "er," but there are more complex forms, too. Embolalia are usually harmless, if mildly annoying to some. But sometimes they can be damaging.
Navy vs. Marine Corps tug of war in Vera Cruz, Mexico ca. 1910-1915Holding Back: I
When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A well-festooned utility poleComing June 26: Additive bias…or Not: I
When we alter existing systems to enhance them, we tend to favor adding components even when subtracting might be better. This effect has been attributed to a cognitive bias known as additive bias. But other forces more important might be afoot. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceAnd on July 3: Additive bias…Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!