Breakout Session: Character

The Concept

Leadership behavior in any situation, emergency or otherwise, is a direct reflection of the Leader’s character.

Facilitator: John Storck, Jr

The Findings

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when nobody is watching.” – John Wooden

“Character is difficult to teach and is more developed through individual commitment over time. Short-term, transactional Leadership is possible without high character. However, if one aspires to transformational Leadership, high character is critical. Transactional Leadership may help a crew survive an offshore crisis. Transformational Leadership may help to prevent it.” – John Storck, Jr. 

Traits of high character in offshore Leadership: the list could be as long as the creator wishes. Our group chose a streamlined list taken from Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, by Admiral James Stavridis. The traits are: Integrity, Empathy, Humility, Decisiveness, Resilience, and Self-Awareness (described in full in detailed best practices).

Definitions of Leadership Character, adopted from, Leadership: Theory & Practice, 7th Ed., by Peter G. Northouse

Transactional Leadership: refers to the bulk of Leadership models, which focus on the exchanges that occur between Leaders and their followers. In simple terms, this is a relationship that only exists to accomplish a task. 

Transformational Leadership: the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the Leader and the follower. 

Some additional thoughts:

  • Character cannot be taught in a day. Rather, it is something developed through a commitment of self over time. 
  • There are numerous categorizations of Leadership. Not all require high character. However, Leaders operating with high character have more potential to lead in more elevated ways. 

Key Best Practices

  • Employ the traits of high character in offshore Leadership (Integrity, Empathy, Humility, Decisiveness, Resilience, and Self Awareness).
  • Establish a culture of open communication.
  • Take on every job. 
  • Commit to self-awareness. 
Captain Ned Shuman

“I have often compared ocean racing with being a prisoner of war, an environment with which, unfortunately, I have had some experience.  Hard conditions, cramped quarters, bad food (really bad on boats stocked by midshipmen) and diverse personalities.  Instead of the guards beating you, Mother Nature takes over.  You can’t get out so you make the best of it.  It’s a character builder.”

Captain Ned Shuman, a Storm Trysail member, spent five years as a POW in North Vietnam

Things to avoid

  • Arrogance.
  • Ignoring or shutting out information.
  • Failing to take command when Leadership is needed.

Recommended changes to improve Safety-at-Sea training and education

  • Include identification of the six elements of high character in offshore Leadership in SAS training.
  • Develop a specific character assessment program.
  • Consider adding an overnight component to SAS.
  • Develop a new video or set of videos that portray example scenarios that display both good and bad Leadership character. 

Panel Watch Bill (Group Members) 

  • John Jr Storck, Jr. – Facilitator, STC
  • John III Storck, III – Scribe, STC
  • Todd Gautier – L3, F/A-18 Pilot
  • Barry Gold – STC, NYYC, American YC
  • Sally Lindsay Honey – STC, US Sailing
  • Bill Ketcham – STC, NYYC, American YC
  • Mark Lenci – CCA
  • Dan O’Connor – U.S. Marine Safety Assn.
  • Jim Praley – STC, Annapolis YC
  • Lee Reichart – STC 
Capsize of a Korean passenger ferry with loss of over 800, including 500 high school students on a trip. The Captain told passengers to remain in their cabins, while he abandoned ship. Lack of character and integrity; panic in an emergency. The Captain is now serving a life sentence.

Breakout Session Outputs:

The 2021 Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium was made possible thanks to the following partners:

Presenting Partner


Supporting Partners