Building Your Sailing Tribe

Published on October 16th, 2017

by Deborah Bennett Elfers
I’ve written before about fleet building, and what I’ve found to be the most important strategies in being able to be successful in that work. But it wasn’t until I read Seth Godin’s book, Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, that I could envision a compelling and simple way to communicate to others what has helped my fleet grow and thrive. And so, because of Seth’s book, I’m hereafter choosing to refer to the work we do as “Building Your Sailing Tribe.” You’ll soon see why.

To begin, Seth believes that here are just two simple things one needs in order to create a tribe:

1. A shared interest, and
2. A way to communicate.

If you have both of these, you’re well on your way to launching your sailing tribe. Obviously, the shared interest in this case is sailing, so that’s a given. Half of your work is done for you before you even start! But what is often missing is the second requirement: an effective way for the sailing tribe to communicate — and without the connections that this communication affords, your tribe won’t be able to flourish.

But you can’t stop there, because there’s another important ingredient you need, as well: a leader. Here’s what Seth thinks about tribe leadership, and why a good leader is essential:

• A leader can transform the tribe’s shared interest into a passionate goal,
• Provide effective communications tools for its members, and
• Leverage the success of the tribe to help it grow and attract new members.

Let’s look further at these recommendations, and at how they might be applied to doing the work of building a fleet. What are the things we can do to plant the seeds, and nurture them, so that our sailing tribe can succeed and grow? Here are some strategies I’ve found to be effective:

• A regular newsletter during the sailing season, and others sprinkled throughout the year with tips and tricks for getting ready for the season ahead.
• Gathering the tribe after racing, for kudos on a job well done, a debrief for “on-the-water” happenings and rules learning, and just plain getting to know one another.
• Building a shared passion around things like getting ready together to participate in a National Championship or area regatta – everyone helps each other to be as successful as they can be, because it benefits the tribe (not to mention making the fleet’s racing that much more satisfying).
• Connect and inspire your tribe members – through one-on-one conversations, and leading by example. Tribe members will follow your lead and take on some of this work themselves. It takes a village, as they say.
• Create pride and enthusiasm among the fleet for contributing to the success of the sailing tribe – this is what leveraging the success of your tribe looks like. People want to be part of a successful team, and new members will want to join the tribe you’ve built.
• Create the culture you want and stick to the messaging – in a sailing tribe, this is especially important in a sport where self-policing and sportsmanship are expected. Understand what you can’t compromise on.
• Believe in your sailing tribe, and, as the leader, never fail to demonstrate your commitment to the tribe and its mission.
• Be ready when it comes time to let others lead and innovate – no one can stay at the helm too long; new ideas and outlooks are what keep things fresh and exciting.

Every single one of these strategies will positively influence your tribe, and, taken together they will have a huge impact on its growth and connectivity. None of them is especially difficult, though they do require a consistent dose of time and commitment. Start small and branch out – it’s a lot of these smaller actions, accomplished over time, that will provide your tribe with the big pay-off.

As I write this, I’ve recently handed off the leadership of our fleet to two wonderful new leaders, and I know that their ideas and excitement are going to benefit us all. It’s been my absolute joy to do this work, and to have helped people come together to build our amazing community of sailors. Our sailing tribe remains in good hands – and I, for one, can’t wait to see what great things will happen!

Author: Deborah Bennett Elfers was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. But now she is all about sailing and shares her random musings about things like falling in love with a boat, building a fleet, learning to become a winner, and the beauty of sailing classic boats on legendary Buzzards Bay on her blog – Take the Tiller.

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