Servant Leadership Workplace-Boaty

Boaty McBoatface: 4 Leadership Lessons

Sit back, mateys, and let me tell you the tale of Boaty McBoatface.

Earlier this year, a British government agency decided to open things up on the internet and let people suggest a name for its new $287 million polar research vessel, rendered to the right.

But the government was unprepared for rough waters caused by the overwhelming support for naming the ship . . .

. . . Boaty McBoatface.

That rather unorthodox name, suggested on a whim, took off like things sometimes do on the internet.

Even though Boaty McBoatface garnered 124,000 votes, the naming-powers-that-be chose to name the ship after beloved British naturalist, David Attenborough.

That David Attenborough came in fourth behind Boaty McBoatface with only 11,000 votes riled more than a few. Waves of mutinous sentiment broke across the internet.

Typical Boaty supporters tweeted:

“If you didn’t like #BoatyMcBoatface in the first place why give us the option?”

“So apparently if you vote for anything & somebody doesn’t like it they can just change it. So what’s the point? #BoatyMcBoatface”

Eventually, the waters calmed. Some Boaty supporters exhibited good humor. One tweeted, “David Attenborough could strike a real blow for democracy by changing his name to #BoatyMcBoatface before the launch.”

Boaty McBoatface: 4 leadership lessons I see:

  1. Be honest about asking for advice. It’s a big mistake for a leader to seek advice just for show, with no intent of even considering it. Doing so is a subtle form of dishonesty that is sure to torpedo trust.
  1. If you ask for advice, be prepared to take it. Leaders sometimes ask for advice assuming it will be consistent with their intended courses of action. But when – surprise! – it’s not consistent, the leaders must choose between disappointing their advisors and being disappointed themselves. It’s good to consider that possibility in advance.
  1. If you ask for advice, be prepared not to take it. Sometimes a leader sees no choice but to ignore advice from advisors. Doing so can be a truly difficult act of leadership – and the hallmark of a truly great leader.
  1. If you don’t take advice, be clear about why. People can usually handle disagreement when, first, they have had a full opportunity to be heard and, second, they are given a full explanation for a decision they don’t like. Honesty and openness may not always eliminate the sting of disagreement. But they never hurt.

What do you think, mateys?

Should the British government have named the vessel Boaty McBoatface? Can you share your own experience with effective – or ineffective – leaders asking for advice? What other lessons do you see?

Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!

Cairnway offers executive coaching, team performance improvement and board development through a servant leadership approach.


* See “Boaty McBoatface to Bear David Attenborough’s Name, and the Web Pouts,” by Hannah Olivennes, The New York Times, May 6, 2016.