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Home > Crew Matters > Effective Leadership with The Crew Coach and Captain Dean Pilatti 

Effective Leadership with The Crew Coach and Captain Dean Pilatti 

Most of us would have experienced both great leadership and poor leadership at some point in our careers. What I have learnt is that it is not easy being a great leader –  it requires an intricate tapestry of soft skills and a deep understanding of self. Having all the tickets/certificates behind you does not qualify you to be an exceptional leader nor does it automatically command respect.

Our lived experiences and belief systems play a huge part in how we see the world which will subsequently influence how we lead. If we don’t seek to understand ourselves, our values and beliefs we are likely to perform less ably as leaders which in turn will not only impact our professional careers but those who we are leading.

Having worked under poor leadership as well as having observed it play out within our industry culminated with my passion for effective leadership, became the catalyst for me in developing a course that can guarantee optimal leadership performance. If we can teach leaders how to inspire greatness, not only will we have positive role models, we will also have a more engaged, productive and satisfied workforce.

I connected with Captain Dean Pilatti and we covered the key characteristics and attributes that make up effective leadership. Here is an excerpt from one of our interview together.

Karine – So on the topic of leadership, what does leadership mean to you personally?

Dean – Never stop learning. As a leader, you have to have an open mind, and you need to be comfortable with owning up to your mistakes. I’m the first person to put my hand up and say no I’m wrong, and accept the fact that I have said something wrong or I’ve done something wrong. You need to be willing to say “I’ve done that wrong”. Learn from your mistakes, and then share your learnings if the laundry stew comes up with an idea and it’s better than yours, then she’s the leader, and everyone should rally around her and go with her vision and her idea.

Karine – In terms of attributes, being open-minded, willing to learn and grow and be vulnerable so accepting your personal mistakes failures, what would you ask that in terms of enforced attributes that want to practice awareness.

Dean – Absolutely, empathy, like, be empathetic to everyone around you because you don’t know what their problem is, the problem that’s in front of you. Be willing to listen to what they’ve got to say, so that you can understand the scenario and then give advice and mentorship to help them through whatever’s happened.

Karine – Never take an issue at face value, take the time to understand underlying problems incorporates the skill of active listening, and empathy building, and compassion.

Karine – With regards to leadership is not, (it doesn’t have to reside in just the head of departments), it can be the junior stewardess, it could be the deckhand … leadership doesn’t discriminate we are all capable of being leaders. So what would you say would define poor leadership, what would that look like behaviour wise?

Dean – I think, if as a leader you fall into the trap of I know the best scenario or I am the captain, I am the chief mate or I am the chief steward mentality, where you become heavy-handed and become a dominated leader, rather than a leader that helps nurture you through the issues. In my opinion, if you refuse to listen to people, and see what’s in front of you then you don’t really know what the problem is so you’re making a decision without knowing all the facts.

Karine – yes so it sounds like it’s the entitlement attitude that can interfere with the development of leadership skills. What is your policy around bullying and how do you manage it?

Yeah, bullying. Bullying on board is something that is very present. And, as a captain. You need to have a great relationship with your crew. If you don’t have a relationship with the crew as a captain, what you’ll find is when you walk into the crew mess the conversation either stops or changes. If you maintain a relationship and stay at a constant level with your crew; when you walk into the room the conversation will stay the same. What I try to do is stay engaged with the crew; engaged with what’s happening on board and feel the vibe, and if there are inappropriate behaviours I try to shut it down before it gets to bullying or other inappropriate behaviours. Okay look on boats, there’s always going to be banter between departments, between males and females, but it’s the level of which I as the captain, the person that’s the most responsible on board allows that banter to go on for.

Karine – Right, so if you can give me an example of how you would do that, being in a leadership position, if you see or notice bullying happening on board what is your go-to in terms of managing that.

Dean – I think it needs to be in the first instance, take the person that was involved on the receiving end, have a chat with them to make sure that you’re on the same page because if the other person doesn’t see it as bullying, you know, then maybe I’m misreading the situation. If it turns out that it’s how it’s perceived, then go back to the source, and say, listen, the comments that you were making in the crew mess were inappropriate. We need to tone it down, or you need to understand that your comments or your actions are impacting others. It needs to be said in private because you don’t want to embarrass people, but you also need to make sure that they understand that they’re being watched or it’s being noticed.

Karine – Yes… and on the topic of inappropriate behaviour. In 2018, I was on the panel at the Sea Changes Forum in Monaco and I addressed sexual assault and harassment within our industry. It was shocking to hear the results of how many crew who were surveyed have been assaulted. Sexual assault can include unwanted touching, groping and kissing or even unwanted behaviour such as if one makes a person feel uncomfortable or even threatened. So with regards to sexual harassment, I know you mentioned before that there’s a lot of banter on board; in the survey results, a crew member shared that she was saying unpacking the drinks into the fridge and when she was bent over someone went over and slapped her bottom. And that might have been regarded as something that’s quite jovial by the person slapping her bottom, but it made her feel uncomfortable which therefore classifies the behaviour as assault. What are your thoughts on that?

Dean – Well yeah, I’m going lead towards you on that because that’s the beginning… That’s the beginning of the end. So, if I saw that. That would be an immediate conversation there because that is the beginning of a very slippery slope.

Karine – Yes. And I think it’s important to note that it is these behaviours, the inappropriate behaviours that are not addressed forms a particular culture on board which can breed toxicity, and subsequently, it can impact productivity, engagement, and morale. So you really got to take notice of your behaviours and be responsible for your behaviours and realising that it may not only be impacting one person, but it’s impacting everyone on board, including the culture.

Dean – I agree completely. The way people interact with other people from an emotional perspective, it’s harder to pick up on. And we all absorb comments and remarks differently. For me as a captain, that’s a much harder one. And so then I’m always looking at how my crew are doing, how they are feeling and how they say good morning to each other and so forth. You’ve got a smile you say good morning, you know, and you can feel it. I think is a greater challenge to manage. It really is.

Karine- We talk about whether leaders are born or made; so you can be born with particular skills such as empathy, but other people may need to learn that, and you can learn that through training and professional development. How can you accelerate your personal and professional development? What have you done?

Dean – I think that’s a great question. You need to be able to listen and be willing to listen, then, if you make a decision, stand by your decision but if it’s wrong, admit it. If I make a mistake or I do something wrong, (we being the boat we make a mistake) then I say it was my fault. I’ll be the first person to get all the deck crew together and say sorry guys, I got the boat in the wrong position. Don’t worry about it. We’re all good, everyone’s safe. And also, if you’re wrong, be big enough to accept that you’re wrong. If you’re wrong, review it later. And learn from it, and that’s it.

Karine – Yes. So, on that topic … what has been your biggest learning as a leader, so far?

Dean – For me, it’s just a massive acceptance of, you know okay yes I’m the captain, I’ve got to make decisions I have 16 kids on this boat that I look after, they’re my responsibility. I just have to do what’s best for them, and sometimes I do it 98% of the time and sometimes I’ll get it wrong. And so, yeah, I guess I don’t stop learning and that’s the thing you know, every day’s a school day.

Karine – Yes, and I think we will be presented with more for growth if we have that mindset.

Dean – I get to learn something every single day. I love my job I love getting up in the morning, I love interacting with the crew, with the owners and with the charter guests. We are so lucky to have this amazing industry, and I love it. Even though I am a leader I still have everything to learn. We’re all on this planet for a very short period of time. If you’re on a boat that you love, work is easy and life is great. So don’t be on a boat that you don’t like, get off it. Don’t complain. Don’t jump up and down say this boats terrible, pack your bags and leave, get on a boat that you love, and go out there and be amazing.

Karine – Yes!

Karine – Everyone can be amazing.

Dean – Yes, absolutely 100% Life is too short for that and there are some nasty people out there and don’t withstand it, stick by your values, and go out there as you said, and reach your full potential.

Karine – Every single person has the ability to be amazing. Yes, I truly believe that, so if you feeling stuck or unhappy with your circumstance ask for help. I think I’m gonna end it up there, such a positive note, thank you so much.

Dean – I enjoyed being spending time with you and I love your posts and I love everything that you’re doing, it’s great. It’s great for yachting and it’s great for the industry. So thank you.


The Crew Coach