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Seb Anthony

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Adjusting the wind, not your sails


 Sometimes adjusting the wind is the right thing to do, rather than merely accepting the wind and adjusting your sails accordingly.


One of the more interesting things about the job I do is that I get to meet a lot of different people and personalities.  I’m generally fairly easy-going and I like to think that I get on with most people but I, like most of us, find some people easier to get along with than others.  I was reminded of this recently whilst working with a group of graduate recruits – very bright, very sharp and, as you would expect from a bunch of early twenty-somethings, quite naive in a number of ways.  There were seven of them and they were expected to work with other, similar sized groups, on a week-long project.

I genuinely liked them and it was clear that they had talent and potential.  Within the group there was no formal structure – they’d considered allocating roles but had rejected the idea quite early on – but over the course of the week one person (we’ll call her Julie) began to emerge as leader.  She was quick and able and was accepted as de-facto leader by most of the group but not by everyone.  One person in particular, we’ll call her Sam, had problems with the way the group was behaving.  Sam came to me, as I was supporting the group during the week, to discuss how best to deal with the situation.

I won’t go into the details of the advice that I gave her – she mostly worked it out for herself and just needed a sounding board – but I remembered some advice that I’d been given in a similar situation many years ago and I passed it on to her – and, by extension, you.

We’ve all heard the old saying that you cannot change the wind but you can adjust your sails: the meaning is obvious – some things you can’t change and, when you encounter them, you have to change yourself or what you’re doing.  It’s a good phrase but even the wind can be affected or redirected and, anyway, people aren’t the wind.  What if you need to change the wind?

Let’s switch metaphors and imagine it this way.  You live in a village at the bottom of a long, steep hill.  You notice that a boulder is rolling down the hill towards your village.  It’s some way off but it is, inexorably, heading for your house and, when it arrives, the boulder will destroy your it.  What do you do?  Obviously, standing in front of it, bracing yourself to try to stop it in its tracks, isn’t going to work – you’re just going to get flattened. Instead, you have to get alongside it, match its speed and then gradually nudge it into a different direction.  It’s the same with people – you very infrequently get results with direct confrontation.  When pushed, people tend to push back and confrontation or conflict generally breed more conflict.  Instead, a more subtle approach – matching them, getting alongside them and nudging them in a different direction, tends to pay greater dividends.


2 Responses

  1. Change the wind?

    Hello Steve.

    Wise words here, and I love the analogy of the boulder rolling down the hill, I’m sure I can use this in a forthcoming training session.  (If you have no objections, that is?)



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