Changing Course with Flexibility

Change and adaptable are not always easy, and sometimes we are slow to recognize the need to be flexible. Flexibility, when used appropriately, is a great tool for effective leadership.

There is a great story written by Frank Koch, who was a naval officer, and his story demonstrates the need for flexibility.

Naval ship

“A battleship had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. The captain, who was concerned about the deteriorating conditions, stayed on the bridge so that he could keep an eye on all activities. One night, shortly after dark, the lookout on the bridge suddenly shouted, ‘A light, captain, bearing on the starboard bow.’

‘Is it steady or moving astern?’ asked the captain.

The lookout confirmed that it was steady, which meant that the battleship was apparently on a dangerous collision course with the other ship. The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: “We are on a collision course. Advise you to change course 20 degrees north.”’

Back came the response from the other ship: ‘You change course 20 degrees south.’


Annoyed at the arrogance of the response, the captain said, ‘Send: “I am a captain, change course 20 degrees north.”’

‘I am a seaman second class,’ came the reply, ‘you had still better change course 20 degrees south.’

By this time, the captain was furious. He shouted, ‘Send: “I am a battleship. Change course 20 degrees north.”’

Back came the flashing light: ‘I am a lighthouse.’

The captain changed course.

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