The Lifeboat Theory of Management – Bon Voyage!

21 06 2016

“Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” ~Jean-Paul Sartre

When our CEO started at my company several years ago, one of his first assignments to the leadership team was to discuss “the lifeboat theory of management”…. Here’s an extra special bonus: “Guest Writer Tuesday” comic from my fearless leader.

This quote (and the comic interlude) hearkens back to a management technique I regularly use when dealing with a new and/or perplexing problem.    I call it the “Lifeboat Theory of Management”.  Simply put, this process notes that any project has similar components: resources, people, policies and procedures and an objective and these 4 components change with the external factors that exist at the moment (and perhaps change mid-mission!)   Once you accept those principles, you then start analyzing what may be the component parts.  A few observations;

  • Define your mission -If you deploy a life raft to get the occupants to an island ¼ mile from the boat, you use a different combination of resources, people and policies than if you anticipate a week long voyage to an unknown or uncertain venue.
  • Identify necessary resources -there are no dining room tables in life rafts.  Use what you need but only what you need!
  • There must be a captain – know who is in charge and make him/her accountable
  • Policies and procedures are critical – make sure everyone involved knows the rules – NO PICKING AT THE PATCH (over the life raft hole)
  • Finally, nobody is more important than the mission – patch pickers are apt to “swim with the fishes’!

So,  leaders – put some thought into every project and don’t get overwhelmed – while decisions are critical, they are also often pretty simple – resources, people, policies & procedures, and an objective – bon voyage!

Speaking of lifeboats (and poking holes in them)…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.




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