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In a conversation recently, I was asked what my grandfather did when I was growing up. While I had two grandfathers, one was a mechanic, and the other was a Chief Engineer on a tugboat in the Houston ship channel.

I started thinking about both of them and then begin focusing on the one on the tugboat. I thought that I would share a little about the tugboat and how it pertains to leadership.

First I will tell you that my grandfather could not swim a stroke. He hated water being on his head so much that he never took a shower, only baths. Strange but true.

His responsibilities included budgets, schedules, maintenance, and safety of the tug’s operation. He made sure that the boat was ready and able to perform when needed, and in the Houston ship channel, it was often.

A tugboat is a small boat that maneuvers larger ships and barges by pushing, towing, or just coming alongside them to steer them in the narrow canals or harbors. They are extremely powerful for their size because they are required to steer much larger ships.

I was driving by a harbor recently and saw one of those tugs at work. It reminded me again of my grandfather and his role and also how leaders are a lot like a tugboat.

The captain of the tugboat knows the harbor that they are operating in, and they are there to guide the larger ship through dangerous areas. They know how to maneuver, and they do it with small nudges. They are able to use the momentum of the ship and the knowledge of the path to get the ship to it’s destination. As a leader, we need to know the path and be willing to assist the team in maintaining the correct course. This should be done delicately, not abruptly.

It is also impossible for the tugboat to stand by and cheer the ship through the channel. No amount of bleacher encouragement will get the job done. The tugboat has to be in the game. They have to be going alongside the ship through the dangerous waters. As for a leader, while encouragement is necessary, working alongside the team is a necessity, not an option.

The last thing I learned from watching that tugboat is that it was never about the tugboat. The purpose was to get the ship safely to the destination without harm. Tugboats never get credit unless the ship crashes. As the leader, you take responsibility when things go wrong. When all goes perfect, the credit goes to the captain of the ship. If you are in this for fame, try out for reality tv. Leadership is not about fame it is about helping others reach their destination. Keeping them from hazards, and helping them be successful.

This week’s challenge. A tug boat is useless tied to the dock. It is only effective when it is actively working. Are you involved in the game right now? Are you helping someone else be successful? If not, you need to realize that there are ships out there that need assistance. Get in the game. If you are, remain diligent, watch out for hazards.