Before sunrise the wind was blowing so strong that I knew we couldn’t take our diving vessel up the coast to dive for diamonds.
I didn’t bother to get up. I had grown up in False Bay and when the wind blew this hard we wouldn’t risk going out fishing on our ski boat.
Here on the isolated West Coast the Atlantic Ocean would smash tons of water against the shore when the sea was big and dangerous.
I heard knocking on my door. It was my fellow diver who announced that we were going to sea. I had better get up and come down to the jetty in a hurry. I told him this was crazy and that I’d tell this to our boss. His face told me that I was looking for trouble.
Standing on the jetty with the wind howling my boss was furious that I was late. He said we would go to sea and dive for diamonds. I told him the sea was too rough. He shouted at me and told me that I wouldn’t have a job if I refused to go. I needed the job and went aboard with him on the diving vessel rocking on the surging sea.
We clung onto the boat as the waves broke over the bow, running 18 nautical miles up the coast. When we got to the diving grounds the bow and stern lifted so high with the swells that even our boss realised that it would be too dangerous for us divers to work underwater in this rough sea.
But he had shown who was boss.
He told the skipper to turn back and run for home.
It’s painful to bring up the picture memories of this frightening experience as a young man diving for diamonds off the West Coast of South Africa.
Yet there was a big lesson in this.
Especially for any business owner, whether start-up owner, bootstrapper, entrepreneurial risk-taker or established small business proprietor.
Business requires that you need to be firm. It doesn’t mean putting lives in danger, using brute force to get work done or using animal instinct to make your employees cower and fear you.
I cringe when I see headlines on the cover of business magazines proclaiming that a woman CEO is an “Iron Lady”. Strength of will or persistence is commendable but not force that harms, demotivates people and crushes enthusiasm.
Acting tough or with firmness on performance targets, cutting costs and upholding business values is important for survival and business success.
That’s fine. But in an information-based, knowledge society ruling with an iron fist chases people away – its management not leadership.
Most importantly, if you’re starting or running a business on ideas, imagination and intellectual capital, freeing up people to express their best accelerates new and useful business ideas and innovation.