U.S. Sailing team at the World Military Games ...

It started out as an offer to help find a place for an event.  But as Sail to Prevail CEO Paul Callahan got into it, he strengthened his own leadership skills to go beyond the surface and impact people in ways they never expected. And all it took was some positive misdirection.

Understanding that International Federation of Disabled Sailing (IFDS) President Linda Merkle was looking for an event location, Callahan suggested exploring Charlotte Harbor in Florida, and partnered with Merkle to secure local support, assist in planning to raise the funds, as well as help put a logistical plan in place. As a result, IFDS World Championships will be hosted by the Charlotte Harbor Regattas, Inc. in January 2012.

Along the way, Callahan realized why Bridgewater Associates CEO Ray Dalio had been pushing him so hard to focus on the greater impact. Dalio is a major supporter of Callahan’s Sail to Prevail, helping fund its mission to create opportunities for disabled children and adults to overcome adversity through therapeutic sailing.

What Callahan finally saw was that the impact goes far beyond the actual sailors and can “affect very large masses of people”. Certainly, as Callahan puts it, “Sailing can be a platform to teach anyone with a challenge to overcome adversity.” In Charlotte County, FL, Callahan and Merkle started with an event. With local support, they used that to rally the community. This is giving members of the community increased confidence, and in turn leading the members of the community to achieve greater meaning in their day-to-day lives.

The positive misdirection was that all the people that thought they were helping others were helping themselves just as much. (By the way, Callahan’s own personal story is remarkable.  Click here to learn how he overcomes the impossible every day.)

Positive Misdirection with Your Team

There’s a powerful model here in moving from event to community to confidence to achievement. In any new leadership position, this model can be used to secure an early team win.


Start with an event you can rally people around. In Callahan’s case it was a sailing world championship. In your case it could be onboarding a new employee, launching a new product or deploying a new system.  It needs to be an event that is relatively easy for people to understand why you’d want their support.


The first positive misdirection comes with people thinking it’s all about the event. It’s not. It’s about getting them to work together. This can be a first step in bridging towards new behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and environment, or a new BRAVE culture.


Treat the event like an early win on the way to building a stronger culture. Over-invest in the event to deliver the win. This will give team members greater confidence in themselves as individuals, as a team, and in you as a leader.


With that confidence will come greater achievement. As Virgil put it a very long time ago, “They can because they think they can”. This is the ultimate misdirection as the event is really just an excuse to get employees to work together in new ways, helping them build confidence and achieve more.

This is a good example of step 8 of The New Leader’s PlaybookOver-invest in Early Wins to Build Team Confidence

Early wins are all about credibility and confidence. People have more faith in people who have delivered. You want your boss to have confidence in you. You want team members to have confidence in you, in themselves, and in the plan for change that has emerged. Early wins fuel that confidence.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2009). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.