During my interview with Anne Dujmovic of CNET in Portland last week, she asked me one of the best questions I’ve ever heard. Referring to a story in my book about my selection to the stroke seat of the Oxford Lightweights crew, she asked if I feel like I am now in the stroke seat of my life.
Yes, I do – and the more I thought about her question, the more I loved the metaphor.
In a racing crew, the job of the rower in the stroke seat is to set the rhythm for the rest of the crew. The ideal stroke sets a steady, powerful rhythm, that enables the rest of the crew to perform at their best.
When you watch the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race, the face you see most is that of the stroke. You catch glimpses of the Number 7, but most of the rest of the crew is hidden behind this stern pair. But they all have their jobs to do, and are all necessary parts of the crew. Seats 5 and 6 are often referred to as the power house seats – these are where the biggest, strongest rowers usually sit. Seats 3 and 4 are also power seats, although usually slightly smaller and possibly less experienced than 5 and 6. Bow and 2 are the technical seats – put a rough rower in either of these seats and they will knock the boat off-balance and make life uncomfortable for everybody, so these rowers have to be neat and precise.
Even though the stroke might be the most visible face, they can’t do what they do without the complete support of the rest of the crew. A good stroke can’t make a bad crew good, although a bad stroke can turn a good crew bad.
And the coxswain? The little guy who sits in the stern of the boat, who keeps the boat on course and exhorts the crew to do their best. The cox is the strategist, the “brains” of the boat, who knows just when to call for a push for ten, and when to ease back. A good cox knows how to motivate the crew, just what to say and when, to get the maximum performance out of them. And he will take advice from the stroke, who provides feedback on how the crew is feeling.
So in our community here on this blog, I suppose I am in the stroke seat. I set the pace, and the other members of the community (you!) back me up. I couldn’t do what I do without you being there, pulling for me. Occasionally somebody catches a crab (rowing terminology for when a rower catches their oar in the water and the handle whips round, knocking them flat, or even sending them flying clean out of the boat). Even the stroke can catch a crab. It can happen to anybody, and brings the boat to a messy halt. But then we get our oars sorted out, get the ejected rower back on board, and get the boat moving again.
We are at our most effective when we are all pulling in the same direction, our movements synchronised, and the boat lifts and flies across the water. Everybody moving in unison. We are poetry in motion.
And the coxswain? The voice that provides us with motivation, and keeps us on course, and urges us to be the best that we can be?
Well, I leave it up to you to decide how to apply that part of the metaphor. Interpret according to your own inclinations.
And of course, this is just in the context of this community. You are also in the stroke seat in your own community, your office, your family, your organisation. It’s all about teamwork, and each of us doing what we can to rally and focus action towards progress.
If we all pull together, we CAN save the world!