Don't Worry About Being the Captain

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Have you ever heard the adage "too many cooks in the kitchen"? This is a powerful analogy that accurately points out how often times it's better to have one person running the show. Whether you are a chef or a business leader, it's usually detrimental to have too many "cooks" in the "kitchen." Even if the chefs are well qualified and skilled, having a bunch of them running around in a confined space with knives while giving orders is a recipe for disaster (no pun intended).

Even though this analogy does a good job proving its point, it's hard to think of a successful business as a kitchen and it's leaders as cooks. A well oiled machine seems like a better analogy, or even more accurately, a ship.

Thinking of your business as a ship is a great way to conceptualize your organization in your minds eye. Much like a ship, a business has a crew, a destination, moral, and a single captain to keep its course. A ship is an intricate vehicle that needs a multitude of specialists to help it run, and a business is the same. In order for both a business or a ship to achieve its full potential, every one of these specialists has to carry out their specific job function to the best of their ability. Engineers need to keep the engine running, navigators need to plot the journey, helmsmen need to stay the course, and maybe most important, a captain needs to control the operation and shoulder the responsibility.

Maybe it's because a captain is widely viewed as the most important, but something I've noticed among growing businesses is that most people within that business desire to be the captain; they desire to be that go-to leader. Whether the coveted position is CEO, CFO, Director of Product Development, or any other shiny title, many people have the innate desire to lead their organization. Which isn't a bad thing in moderation; I'm sure all you employers out there are looking for people who have the desire to lead. But when the organization is a growing startup, it's fundamentally important that the business has a clear vision, a strong leader, and defined roles for it's employees.

Although every business should run like a ship, it is even more paramount that a startup runs like one. Stated previously, a startup - or any growing company for that matter - needs positive direction and strong leadership. And just as important, it needs a collaborated effort from all of its employees. Every single job function within a business is just as important as the next and should be carried out to the best of each person's ability. The accountant who knows their business' books inside and out is as integral to the success of that business as the CEO. Just ask a captain how hard it would be to lead a ship that doesn't have an engineer to keep the engine running.

What if, for example, the navigator of our proverbial ship decided that he was equally qualified to be the captain? Sure, the navigator knows how to plot the ships course, but who would take over the navigator's specialized position? How would the crew react if the navigator started to spread dissent by questioning the captains decisions? What if the navigator felt that there was a better course for the ship should and tried to seize control? There are so many questions in this scenario that in the end everyone would be going down with the ship.

So rather than vying for power within your business, own your current role. Understand that even though you may not be in a position of leadership, your job is helping your company grow. Don't lose your aspirations for leadership, but realize that a power struggle will ultimately hurt your business. Learn everything you can, take on more responsibility as it comes, and allow your role to grow with the company. Prove to your leadership group that you have the qualities of leadership and one day you may be the captain.

You should always remember that you are aboard something that's headed in the right direction, enjoy the ride. If anything, the things you will learn in a well run business will lead you to your own ship, where you are the captain.


- A business needs many people to make it run successfully, but only one strong leader
- Every position within a business is equally important to the success of that business
- Own your current role and carry out your job function to the best of your ability
- Aspiring to be a leader is a good thing, as long as it doesn't hamper your current position
- Learn everything you can from your leadership group, it will help you both grow within your business or help you start your own
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