Management Lessons from a Shipbuilder…

Very recently and very fervently, a friend recommended a book to me. It was titled – The Shipbuilder: Five Ancient Principles of Leadership. Prima facie, it seemed another one of those drab treatises on management. Turned out, it wasn’t.

In a placid yet thought provoking style, the author describes five key rules of effective management through a metaphorical story set in ancient greece. It is about a shipbuilder named Marcus, who’s facing a crisis because of acute shortage of workers. He goes on to learn and more importantly apply, some invaluable lessons from Barnabas, the master shipbuilder. As he begins to apply the lessons, he witnesses a complete change of scene—his crew, who seemed apathetic and opportunistic only a few weeks ago, are willing to work late and put in much more.

Principle #1

‘Make them feel appreciated’

If there’s one thing which is the universal fuel for all homo sapiens, it’s admiration.
‘Pretend each person who works for you, has a sign around their neck that reads, ‘Make me feel important’, says Barnabas. He further elucidates, saying this cannot be faked and has to come from within. Empathy is the key.

Principle #2

‘See their potential, not their flaws’

Barnabas, the master ship-builder, with an analogy of a rock and a ruby, beautifully explains how Marcus must see the capabilities of his employees rather than their shortcomings. This does not mean overlooking their flaws, but to not go overboard in rebuking them for mistakes or termianting their services altogether. Constructive criticism is what’s called for in all situations. Besides, people must be given roles that suit their capabilities best. Core competencies and skill mapping – in modern day terms.


Principle #3

‘Lead with authority, not power’

Perhaps the most important lesson. We humans have a tendency to work much better under someone we respect, rather than someone for whom we are bound to, due to his rank or designation. While power can be assigned or transferred, authority has to be earned by empathy, devotion and allegiance. ‘All great things in this world are achieved by people with authority. They lead and others follow’, concludes Barnabas.


Principle #4

‘Love them first’

Another important lesson. The human need for importance. Before assigning a task to subordinates or waiting for them to complete a task, it is important to make them feel that they are being loved as whoever and whatever they are. Once the message is clear, it will lead to wonderful results.

Marcus executes this part remarkably. It’s a hot day and the workers are but drained of all vitality. He brings in some watermelons, a luxury for the downtrodden in the ancient times. Everyone is thrilled at the very sight of the melons and have a heavy fill. This makes them feel pampered more than anything else, and a much stronger bond results.


Principle #5

‘Make them feel they are part of something special’

As a concluding lesson, Barnabas tells Marcus that the greater the aura of the work being special, the greater the inclination of the worker towards it. Something that’s unique and significant in a certain way creates a deep sense of purpose in the mind of the worker.

The basic tenet behind this philosophy is the fact that we humans are much more disposed towards doing something when we know it will make a substantial difference towards a larger cause, than otherwise. This disposition, must be tapped.

What is particularly remarkbale about the author, is his take on human emotions and how people react and behave in different situations. With the aid of a simple story, he brings home to us a lesson, larger than life – There are things, more important than money. The protagonist Marcus, does not increase the emoluments for his workers. All he does is manage them much more efficiently keeping the five principles in mind. The result – His crew is better managed than it ever was, and he completes his most extensive project with utmost perfection and well within the deadline.

The book is short and gets over in one sitting. The lessons however, stay forever.

– Govind Agarwal

The author is an alumnus of Institute of Management techonology, Ghaziabad(Class of 2015). Presently, he works with ICICI Bank, Mumbai. He loves to explore the different aspects of management and apply them to real life situations. You can reach him on facebook – here .



Govind Agarwal

Final year management student at IMT Ghaziabad.