Steady As She Goes

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“Steady as she goes!”

–     A nautical term used to direct the helmsman of a sailing ship to maintain current course and speed…also a cool song by The Raconteurs, circa 2007

Yeah, Jack White before The White Stripes.  But that’s not the point.  In fact, the lyrics of the song run completely counter to the point.  But I digress…

For sailors “Steady as she goes” was music to their ears.  The captain was directing the person steering the ship to stay the course.

It works for businesses, too.  Once the sail is set and the rudder is aligned, momentum kicks in, and we make (and maintain) maximum speed and distance.  The best captains know better than to try to outguess the wind.

(Looking back at the first few sentences, the whole musical reference was gratuitous, wasn’t it?  Oh, well…now, where was I?  Oh, yes.  Steady as she goes…)

When we try to outguess the wind, we end up upside down in the middle of the sea.  That’s bad if you’re me because I can’t swim.  That’s bad if you lead a business because your team is counting on you to keep them safe and dry and to get them to the destination.

Need a couple more gratuitous illustrations?  Well, music and golf are my two weaknesses….oh, and wine….and food….and single-barrel bourbon….but I digress yet again… Let’s go with “Golf, for $500, Alex!”

Keeping with the wind part of the analogy, there are great golf stories about a “little bit of wind” — from Jack Nicklaus’ conversation with his caddie / son, Jackie on #16 at The Masters in 1986, to Roy McAvoy’s “little gust there, Romes” in Tin Cup.

Here’s the difference.  Jack knew that “steady as she goes” was the right call.  “Be right!” Jackie said, as Jack strode off after the shot, looking back over his shoulder and saying, “It is.”  He had picked his club and executed his shot.  After something like 120+ trips around the golf course, he knew what the wind did in that spot, at that time on Sunday afternoon.  The ball nearly went in the cup, and Jack’s legend was cemented.  Now, on the other hand, Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy flew by the seat of his pants.  Never backing down from the temptation of a bet, a challenge or a dare — McAvoy tried to beat Mother Nature and then proceeded to rinse five balls on his way to blowing the US Open.  (Yes, I know it was just a movie…)

We see it happen when a couple of great months hit the books.  “Let’s chase that breeze,” we think, ignoring the deep, still waters and the prevailing wind of our solid strategy.  We see it even more often when a deal goes squirrely or a quarter lands soft.  “Holy crap!  Let’s change course!  Throw the provisions overboard to lighten the load and gain speed, and let’s hope it works!”

It might.  It probably won’t.

Not when “Steady as she goes!” is the right call.

The data will guide us.  Our instincts will keep us focused.  The breeze, though, will tempt and distract us — and the difference makers resist the temptation.

Music?  Check.  Golf?  Check.  Faith?  Why not?

Matthew 14:22-33 — Peter steps out of the boat and is walking towards Jesus.  On the water!  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began sinking…” (NIV)

Point the bow toward the destination and set the sail with the wind.  Choose a club and make the shot.  Keep focused on the goal and step out confidently — and keep walking.

Current course and speed.  Steady as she goes.


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