It was nearly noon before the sun squinted between the inky sky and the panes of leaden ice that formed the Bering Sea. That was three weeks ago when I was in Nome, Alaska, leading a long-overdue Ripple Effect follow-up session with the Nome Community Center board.
Scenes of the Bering Sea have stayed in my mind. When mostly ice, that ill-boding body has squeezed the life out of many a vessel. Even when liquid, the Bering’s rough waters are beyond daunting. A friend saw my Facebook post and recommended that I read about the U.S.S. Jeannette and the devastating gales that beset it on its early-1880s polar expedition. I’m up to chapter 13.
A few years back, I heard author Patrick Lencioni tell how when an organization goes into rough waters, it is extremely vulnerable. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We have no idea what 2023 might hold for us, but don’t be surprised if waves break across your bow in the days ahead. It’s all part of the voyage. When that happens, keep this in mind: There are two ways to react to situations analogous to dangerous tides, forceful winds, driving rains, and bergs of ice. The first is to hunker down, and the second is to batten down.
To hunker down means to take shelter. When a vessel takes shelter, it stops purposefully sailing. The captain concentrates on finding a harbor or any calm water, regardless of where it might be located. The captain’s primary goal is to keep the vessel afloat and save as many of the crew members as possible. But for all intents and purposes, the voyage is lost.
To batten down, on the other hand, means to make things watertight — to seal up possible leak lines with strips of wood — literally, battens — and caulk. Heading to port is not part of the plan. A captain who orders the crew to batten down the hatches does so with the goal of navigating through the night storm into a calm dawn. Crew members learn the importance of staying fully alert and completely aware. They find out how seaworthy their craft is, and they discover new sailing techniques that would otherwise never have been attempted.
The organization that battens down and locks up is the one that maintains the voyage and has significant distance to show for it. (Most of you did that throughout COVID.) The captain and crew benefit big time because they were innovative and stayed strategic.
When asked in that meeting I attended what battening down the hatches looks like in an organization, Lencioni gave the following descriptions:
I pray that you have a good voyage in the days ahead and will stand sturdy at the Helm. But should you encounter a bit of the Bering in ’23, my encouragement is this: Don’t head for the harbor; sail on through the storm. I’ll see you on the other side.
“The sound of the water is loud; the ocean waves are powerful, but the Lord above is much greater” (Psalm 93:4, EXB).