SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
October 29, 2018
Stepping up and Stepping Back
29 13.118’S 173 49.415’E
Ship’s Heading & Speed
180, 5.1 knots
Wind WSW Force 6, Partly Cloudy 21C
As we move in to the last full week of the sailing component of the SPICE program I've been thinking a lot about a leadership training term that has stuck with me for quite some time. The idea of stepping up and stepping back. Generally it means knowing when to give others the space to share ideas or experience with a group and when you may need to take the lead even if it's uncomfortable. With the Junior Watch Officer (JWO) phase of our trip now underway it's something that I've enjoyed watching our students learn to do. JWO (and its lab equivalent JLO) gives the running of the deck (or the lab) over to the students. The mates and assistant scientists are still there, and will step in if someone is putting the ship or its crew in danger, but is not allowed to answer questions or give advice. It asks the students to rely on their shipmates and their own knowledge and intuition built up over the last five or so weeks to steer, manage sail handling, do hourly boat checks, wake ups, etc. There are a lot of moving parts to keep
in mind and the JWO must be able to step back and keep an eye on the big picture. It's a hard thing to do, but so far our students have shown themselves to be capable of handling it. It has been so rewarding to watch them work as a team and support each other as they each step up to be the JWO in turn. Though some of them might like to think otherwise, no one of our students knows how to do every task that is required throughout a 6 hour watch so knowing when to step back and ask for help of their watch mates is a crucial skill and one that everyone has to undertake at some point. Of course mistakes are made, but everyone is supportive and the discussions after between the watch provide learning opportunities for everyone of what not to do when it is their turn as JWO.
As someone who's job is to be looking at the big picture I've been consistently impressed with how far every one of them has come since the beginning of this trip. In five short weeks they've come from maybe not knowing how to sail at all to running the show and doing it remarkably well. Both on deck and in the lab the commitment to helping each other learn and grow is wonderful to see. I know that I am so lucky to have the chance to get to know this wonderful group of humans and to see them become leaders on this ship. I hope that this experience will stick with them as they move forward in their lives and that they will remember the lesson of stepping up and stepping back.
- Rachel Scudder, Chief Scientist