Friday, September 12, 2014

On being a Captain

There's an old joke that I have always enjoyed. It's more a barb, really. One uses it in response to someone claiming the title of "Dr." somewhere near their name because they have a Ph.D in some field and insisting that you use and recognize that title.

"Sure, you're a Doctor but, to a Doctor are you a Doctor."

Titles are nice and all. They are a convenience for understanding, really. Titles can communicate what a person is, what they can do and what we can expect from them. They also can carry a lot of other baggage and assumptions that hinder understanding and communication too.

So, let's talk about Captain.

I am not an officially titled Captain (OUPV, commonly called a "Six Pack" or a Master) by the United States Coast Guard. I have not the required hours under way, nor have I passed the written test for any official license. This means I cannot reasonably insist that people refer to me as Captain, nor do I offer that title in any context where it does not apply. I have no business cards with the title, it isn't in an email signature, and I don't claim the title where it's inappropriate.

I am, however, Captain of Brigadoon.

This doesn't mean that I get to be in charge. It means that I have to be in charge. There is a subtle difference in those two concepts that is important to understand. One gets to have dessert, to go on vacation, to have a day off, to do any number of things that we would like to do. Some people like to be in charge and, for them, being a Captain means they get to tell others what to do. In any arena where a person makes decisions, be they a police officer, a judge, a manager at a company, a parent, they exercise power over others. That is why some people who find it agreeable to wield power are drawn to roles in which they have control. The problem with this kind of person is, they also have to wield responsibility. If you are a Captain, you are responsible. There is no escaping this fact.

I am the Captain of Brigadoon, not because of a desire to wield power. I am Captain because I am responsible for the safety of the vessel and all those aboard. I am responsible for the operation of the vessel so that it is in compliance with all maritime laws. I am responsible for ensuring that my vessel is operated in a manner that reduces risk to other vessels.

It doesn't mean I'm right all the time, or that my decisions are above question. It means that, when something is happening now, that requires a decision, that I have to make it. I'm responsible.

This also means that if anything happens to Brigadoon, to others on board, or to something I damage with Brigadoon (another boat, a dock, you name it) that I'm also responsible. I don't get to make excuses for my lack of knowledge, preparedness, decision making, or competence. Something happens. I own it. This is very unlike most of the news stories you read in the press about Very Important people shirking the very thing they wanted in the first place; being important and the responsibility that comes with it.

It keeps me on my toes. I constantly study. I assess my abilities. I look for shortcomings in my boat, boat systems, my crew, my safety equipment, my education and my capabilities.

I'm the Captain of Brigadoon. It's not just a title. It's a job.

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