Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to solo-circumnavigate the globe non-stop under sail (1968-69), kicked off the symposium sharing his unique story from his home in the United Kingdom. Sir Robin defined Leadership as “Getting the most out of everyone around you.” Interviewer Rich du Moulin and Sir Robin discussed the qualities it takes to be a good Leader, with Sir Robin concluding, “It’s my view that Leadership can be developed, no matter your background. You have got to have ambition, the right experience, and the right attitude.”
Knox-Johnson also noted, “When I was going around the world alone, and things were getting tough, I might lose my temper and tell myself to bloody well get the job done. This anger is not the way to deal with a crew; humor and being positive is better.” He continued, adding, “If you are the Leader, do your men trust you? If you are not the Leader, do you trust the Leader?”
Even a great mariner such as Sir Robin had to assert some “self-Leadership” during a particularly awful part of his 1968-69 circumnavigation alone in the Southern Ocean. du Moulin quoted from Sir Robin’s book A World of My Own:
“For some irrational reason I also thought of poetry and the words of Robert Service’s ballad, ‘The Quitter’ came to mind:
When you’re lost in the wild and you’re scared as a child,
And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you’re sore as a boil it’s according to Hoyle
To cock your revolver…and die.
But the Code of a Man says: ‘Fight all you can…
And self-dissolution is barred.’
In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow…
It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard.
I think that saved me. It brought me up with a jolt. What was I doing getting the life raft out? The boat hadn’t gone yet; I had not really tried everything. I went back on deck and stood watching the sea for a while. Its character was slowing changing. The huge southwest seas were dominating now, and the old northeasterly seas had been knocked flat by the wind. Suhaili was lying beam on to this large sea, and if I could get her round to lie with the sea she might be all right.”
When asked what he thought of the OSLS he participated in, Sir Robin replied, “That Leadership Symposium was a great initiative, and I stayed on because I was enjoying it. It’s always nice to get a different point of view on subjects like this. Having trained people in the Merchant Navy as Instruction Officer on a Cadet Ship, the Royal Navy as First Lieutenant to try and get University Officers to understand that their rank had to be earned, not assumed, the Sail Training Association, as President, where we put 2-3,000 young people through a square rig experience, not to make seamen of them, but to push them to realize they can do more than they thought, and lastly with Clipper, I have done this all my life. I told you about sailing with Bob Papp when he was Captain of the Eagle. That was fascinating. The USCG system was different to ours, but I thought very effective. It’s a huge subject, but, at the end of the day, when you put people into a situation which is frightening, most of them come out of it more confident.” – RKJ