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New captains: Don't rock the boat


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Imagine a veteran captain on a clear night in a calm sea. In his world tonight, there are no rocks or other ship nearby; nothing to do but watch the stars glide by.

Now magically, lift that captain from the bridge, put him back at home in bed, and substitute another captain—any other captain.

This new chief takes over and what?

He will fiddle with something, won’t he? He’ll act decisively to show that he’s the new master. “Give me three more knots,” he’ll say to the second mate, or “Helmsman: two points to starboard.”

No matter how perfect the status quo, when a man takes over he will mess around with the machine. We have this desire, we humans, to prove ourselves through action.

Has there ever been a politician who could resist creating a law—any law? Unlikely since the type who runs for office is the same type who craves the power to do something. If you wonder at the millions of laws you need look no further than this quirk of the human psyche.

Has there ever been a new CEO who kept the firm in situ? Of course not, it’s hardly possible. He’d alter the gears in the smoothest ticking clock the moment he came aboard. The only point of having power is to wield it.

At least that’s how it seems to work in practice.

But in theory, isn’t the opposite better?

There’s an old saying among the rural types that goes: Don’t take down a fence until you know why it was put up to begin with.

That’s pretty good advice, if you ask me.

There will always be aspects of your new command that you can improve, sure, but just wait a bit. It isn’t time to act yet—it’s time to learn. And the most important question you can ask is this: “Why do you do it this way?”

“Why?” is a powerful thought for everyone in charge. Before asking for two points to starboard or three more knots, we really should understand the course we’re already on.

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David Sneed

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss; The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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