In college, I was a coxswain on our crew team for the eight-man barge. As a coxswain, I was responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. It was mostly about rhythm—making sure that all the crew was rowing together.
When the crew wasn’t in synch, there was a risk of “catching a crab.” This means to put one’s oar in the water at the wrong time, which results in the oar flipping parallel to the boat. When this happens, the oar handle forcibly flies backwards, going over the rower’s head or striking the rower’s chest. In extreme cases, the rower may be thrown overboard. This is bad—especially during a race.
Our first trips on the river were fraught with “crabs” as we figured out everyone’s best position on the boat. But eventually, we went from eight single rowers to one coordinated team gliding on the river.
So how can you get your team rowing in the same direction – without catching a crab?
Know Where You Are Going
As the leader, you are responsible for steering the boat. If you don’t know what direction you are going in, you won’t get very far.
Share Your Direction – A Lot
Once you know where you’re headed, you want to get everyone on board. Share your vision with your team: let them know your goals and what you want to accomplish. Sharing your vision is not a “one and done” event, meaning you shared your vision, your team is excited, but then they just move on to their next activity (and before you know it, they’re headed in the wrong direction). You need to reinforce your vision constantly.
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Keep Everyone Focused on the Goal Line
Come up with a short list of metrics that you want to measure your progress towards the goal. Keep the list to no more than five metrics and don’t forget to review with your team regularly.
Hold People Accountable to be in Alignment
Getting your team into the boat and showing them where they are going is only half the battle. You have to get them to row together at the same speed and direction. If you let one person do his or her own thing, you’ll go nowhere.
The coxswain is the leader of the boat in rowing. They set the tempo, and they keep the boat going in the right direction. They encourage the team, telling them how far they have to go until they reach the goal line, and they correct any rowers who are going too fast or too slow.
In your senior living community, picture yourself as the coxswain: set the pace, encourage staff, communicate constantly, and course correct as needed.