The 60-Second Consultant

By Timothy Bentley

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Distress Sail

5 June 2018

by Timothy Bentley

Sunday was the day we planned to pull up the sail on our beloved boat. I had it ready, lying in a pile on the foredeck.

As I attached the sail's loop to the halyard (the sailor's term for the rope that goes up to the top of the mast), Esther inquired innocently, "Are you sure that's the right loop?"

"Yeah. It's fine." I know what I'm doing. Don't doubt me.

So she guided the sail, while I pulled on the halyard.

At that moment, a fellow sailor walking by on the dock hesitated, stopped, almost walked away, hesitated again, then said quietly to Esther, "You know it's upside down, right?"

An upside down flag - or sail - is the international sign of distress. In my case, I guess it's mental distress.

So we pulled down the sail, found the correct loop, and then it went up just fine.

Maybe, maybe, maybe

Later on, the sailor admitted he didn't want to say anything.

Maybe we knew what we were doing. Maybe he was just wrong. Maybe we'd respond badly.

It's always tempting not to challenge people who act as if they know what they're doing.

But all I can say is thank you

Thank you, my friends.

For taking the risk of telling me about the up-side-down sail.

And, by extension, thanks for the feedback about how I spoke to so-and-so at the office.

Thanks for asking if my marketing plan took account of all the contingencies.

Thanks for noticing that I'm better at big-picture strategy than follow-through.

Thanks for mentioning that, when I talked about my successes, I didn't give credit to my hard-working direct reports.

Thanks for saying that I could strengthen my leadership skills by taking more time to listen.

We're all in distress, sometimes

We can only fix what we know about.

When others offer us feedback, they may be right, they may be wrong. But, bless them, we sail more safely when we at least consider what they tell us.

[A 60-Second Consultant encore.]

Timothy Bentley is Chief Operating Officer of Panoramic Feedback