Ask 5: Dee Caffari

Dee Caffari MBE, sailing legend and environmental campaigner has led professional and volunteer crews in tough racing competitions and often testing conditions. Dee is the only woman to have sailed solo, non-stop, around the world in both directions and the first woman to sail non-stop around the world three times. Leading a business can sometimes feel like you are setting sail and steering a complex course, so what can we learn and apply to the teams we lead on terra firma?

1. How do you keep yourself motivated when you’re sailing on your own?
Knowing yourself is essential and being able to dig deep and pick yourself up is important. When the conditions were good then my goals would be reaching the next milestone in the race. On other days, simply getting through the next hour and making a cup of tea with the next windshift was enough of a challenge! When you are sailing solo, everything becomes your responsibility and there’s nowhere to hide. You have to set realistic goals and remember why you are doing what you set out to do. Don’t be afraid to adjust these goals depending on how you are feeling and the circumstances. Build in time to reflect and make sure you give yourself reward systems that really work for you and help you to achieve your next goal.

2. What are your tips on leading teams that have a range of experience and ex-pectations?
Leading teams can be an emotional rollercoaster so it is really important that you exercise self care to maintain your own balance. Ultimately this improves your own performance and enables you to objectively manage your team and identify areas that may be impacting negatively on team performance overall. Make time to ensure your team have bought in to a collective objective and are all working toward the same goal so that they can support each other in reaching it. Feedback is not something just for appraisals or meetings, it should be an ongoing process and by engaging in open communication, issues can be ironed out quickly before they have a chance to fester!

3. How can you create high performing teams?
It sounds cliché, but it is all about getting the right people in the right jobs and, although eve-ryone needs to be able to do a little bit of everything onboard, you need to play to people’s strengths. As a leader you have to help your team understand how to collaborate and appre-ciate each other’s strengths – that way you can bring out the best in people and they can work effectively together.

4. Communicating can take up a lot of time so how do you manage this?
As a leader you have to structure in time and space for communication with your team, for them to be heard and for you to listen. Even when there are seemingly more important things to be getting on with, taking a step back and allowing this flow of communication is essential if you want to lead authentically.

5. What was your highlight from the last Volvo Ocean Race?
We went into this race as the underdog and seeing my crew improve and achieve so much over the course of the race made me very proud. Even when the results weren’t kind to us, the team never gave up and kept fighting. Learning to bounce back when things didn’t go our way and staying motivated wasn’t always easy and that was probably one of the biggest challenges on this race. Don’t ever underestimate the team you have because if you create an environment that enables them to flourish and believe in their ability, people can and will achieve incredible things.