Bailing Water and Plugging Holes

When the ship’s taking on water, bailing is important, but plugging holes is essential.

Don’t let urgency distract you from necessity.

Accept, acknowledge, and act:

  1. Complaining without bailing water or plugging holes makes you deadweight.
  2. Pretending it’s smooth sailing, when the ship’s taking on water, makes you untrustworthy. Leaders shout, “We’re sinking when the ship’s taking on water.”
  3. Alert the crew with confidence, not desperation. “We can do this,” is better than, “We’re SINKING.”
  4. Keep one eye on the horizon. Neglecting the future exhausts the crew and exasperates management. The crew needs a future beyond bailing water.
  5. Make changes. ‘More of the same’ isn’t the answer when the ship’s taking on water.


The captain’s job – when the ship’s taking on water – goes beyond current urgency.

  1. Notice progress even if it’s slow. Progress gives energy. Bailing water without progress drains the crew.
  2. Give daily updates. Control the message or the crew will make one up and it won’t be good.
  3. Seek feedback on your performance and input from the crew. “What’s working?” “What could be better?”
  4. Realign the crew. Some are better at bailing water than others.
  5. Continue development. Pour into the crew if you expect them to pour out for you. Development is investment, not expense.
  6. Throw deadweight overboard. The rest of the crew will cheer.
  7. Stay positive. Express confidence. Smile. Keep repeating:
    • “I’m counting on you.”
    • “I believe in you.”
    • “If we keep working hard, I believe we’ll get through this.”

Embrace the challenge. Calm seas make you weak, dull, and boring. After a few weeks of smooth sailing, the greatness in you shrivels.

Tip: Keep pouring into yourself, even when the ship’s taking on water. You can’t get anything from an empty cup.

How might leaders attend to urgencies and necessities at the same time?

When is it time to get a new ship?