Note from Art: great friend and valued former colleague, Chris Colbert, graciously supplied this wonderful post following his recent experience with his sons and Scout troop at Sea Base. Chris’s brief bio is included at the end of the post.  

Leadership Lessons from the High Seas, by Chris Colbert

Just over a year ago, a number of Scouts (including my oldest son) in our local Troop decided they wanted to add a “High Adventure” experience to their Scouting careers. Their choice? … a “Coral Reef Adventure” at the Boy Scouts of America’s Florida Sea Base at Lower Matecumbe Key in Islamorada, FL.

After more than a year of fundraising, our two “crews” (eight each) boarded 41ft. sailboats and embarked on an adventure that was to include snorkeling, fishing, and sailing in and amongst one of the nation’s true treasures – the Florida Keys.

Sailing the Bay of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean in the Keys has a profound effect after a few days, and offers a great deal of time to reflect between stints of snorkeling among coral reefs, trolling for a potential addition to daily meals, preparing lunches and dinners during shifts in the galley, and acting as “Chief Photographer” for the crew.What I found during those times of reflection was that one can see a number of valuable leadership lessons to apply to a career – or simply to life in general – in just a few short days. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “The captain eats first” – An important reminder that he/she who owns the boat (or for that matter the company you’re working for) gets to set the rules. If you don’t like the rules, start swimming.

2. “Planning is everything” – As a self-professed disorganized person, planning a project more than a year in advance is not part of my personal or professional make-up. Find those on your team who are good at building the plan, and support their every move. While the details early in the process may drive you crazy, it sure makes the end result a smoother sail.

3. “Draw on the experience of others” – The staff at Florida Sea Base were great resources for the inexperienced sailors that made up our crews. Search far and wide for the people in your organization who have the knowledge to make your projects successful.

 4. “Make the most of what you have” – With limited storage on a 41ft. sailboat, finding the utensils needed for even the simplest cooking tasks can be a challenge. The same applies to your business. You may not have the perfect IT systems or other business tools, but let your teams improvise and see what they can build – it can be a great lesson in creativity (and a true treat for the palette)!

 5. “Watch out for sharks, they want to eat your lunch (literally!)” – Hook into a tuna and you better reel it in quickly. Same goes with those competing against you in the marketplace or even for resources inside your organization. Make a decision, set the hook, and reel like crazy!

 6. “Give way to a new captain” – Allow the most inexperienced on your team to steer the boat once in a while and watch what happens! The confidence boost will ensure that others on your team will be ready to step up when you need them most.

 7. “The rains will pass” – There may be times in your career that a squall of misfortune, missteps, or matters beyond your control will drench your dreams. Just remember that the rains will pass and you’ll likely get to see a killer sunrise or sunset after that squall. It’s worth weathering the storm. Plus, your team will be tighter than ever.

 8. “Don’t be afraid to dive a little deeper” – Things look great at the surface, but the real payoff is when you dive down to see the details. Dive deep and you may discover something you’ve never dreamed of experiencing.

 9. “Keep your ‘buddies’ nearby” – If you find yourself in three- to five-foot swells in the ocean while snorkeling several hundred yards away from your boat, make sure you keep your snorkeling “buddy” in sight or you’re likely to experience a panic attack! The same goes in your professional life – find those “buddies” you rely on for mentoring, idea generation, or just moral support and use them when you need a “save.”

 10. “Celebrate as a team” – Spending a week in close quarters (especially during the aforementioned squalls during the night!) striving for a single goal has an amazing effect on a team – celebrate even the smallest wins and watch your team grow.

 11. “All hands on deck” – The sail isn’t over until the cleanup is done. While the exciting part of a project may be over and you’re ready to move on to the next big thing, getting your boat in order is just as critical for the next crew.

 12. “The journey is as valuable as the destination” – Anyone who has been involved with a long fundraising project for a community organization like this – or an extended project in the workplace – knows that the real character building comes in the work the team does before ever setting sail. Remind your team members about the experience they’re gaining along the way that they’ll be able to apply to the rest of their careers.


Many of these lessons can be easily lost on a 14- to 17-year-old who simply wanted to try such an adventure because it seemed that it would be “cool.” But there’s little doubt in my mind that this simple weeklong adventure cemented skills that will make our “crews” better contributors for not only our Troop, but along the paths their lives may take as young men and as future leaders.

About Chris Colbert:

Chris Colbert is the proud father of two Boy Scouts and an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 90 in Altoona, WI. He has lead marketing teams in a number of technology organizations, and currently serves as a Marketing Manager for Realityworks, Inc. – the leading provider of experiential learning technology used in educational and public health settings around the globe.