Manage like a pirate

Photo Credit: practicalowl via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: practicalowl via Compfight cc

I’ve had a few conversations about management culture recently, the most recent was in #chat2lrn on Thursday. The theme of the chat was happiness in the workplace. This is a complex question which is difficult to answer in a Twitter chat. However, Henry Stewart ably addressed the issue of happiness with his Happy Manifesto which I highly recommend. In the chat, there was a question about management:

What role does management have in supporting workplace happiness?

As I said, happiness is complex but I think the best managers are pirate managers…ARR.  To be a pirate manager, there are 3 traits which the manager will demonstrate consistently in the workplace.


Pirate managers know you. Not just by name but they know you, the person. They know enough about you in work to understand your motivations, what you respond well to, your capacity and, most importantly your stretch points. They know your children’s names, can second guess your favourite food and will say hi to you every day. This acknowledgement isn’t superficial – it matters. They say hi to help understand your mood, to give you an opportunity to share. They recognise when you’re in your zone, they know when you need to be pushed, they understand the mechanisms to pull you.


Recognition by the pirate manager is knowing when you do well and telling you. They understand what good looks like and tell you when you produce it. Importantly, they tell other people what you do well and when you do that too. They use this recognition to sell your team’s strengths. This recognition is important to you as it shows your manager is aware of what you do and when you exceed your (and their) expectations. Recognising is important for the pirate manager since it establishes the levles of trust and performance tat they expect from you.


Reward doesn’t have to be financial from a pirate manager. They know you well enough to understand that leaving early might be the reward you need. Or telling you to come in late the next day. Or turning up at your desk to find a pastry for breakfast. The reward might be public or more private; the pirate manager knows which will motivate you more.  The effective pirate manager understands that reward doesn’t have to be external – it could be more responsibility, development, support.

Is good management as simple as being a pirate? Please comment…or ye’ll be walking the plank.

17 thoughts on “Manage like a pirate

  1. I think people (me?) value is someone who is prepared to get their hands dirty, knows exactly what their day to day involves and can help them when they feel swamped and be a couple of steps ahead of them in terms of anticipating problems. Good managers will help their co-workers think through problems and encourage them to be creative in identifying potential solutions and taking a few risks to stretch them. They’ll make difficult decisions, ensure there is fair allocation of tasks/responsibilities and advocate for the team’s purpose with other stakeholders. They will be there when you need them for whatever that may be. I don’t disagree with your three, but I think it’s more than that.

    A manager may know what your favourite food is, or what your kids are called, but I’m not sure that I agree that that is what makes a person happy at work. For example, people knowing those things about me aren’t particularly important. the other things are.


    1. Thanks for your comment Meg. On its own the ARR approach isn’t going to make anyone happy. The Acknowledge part is about understanding the motivations for each team member. As you say, a manager who role models, supports and coaches may be the style that some people respond to best.
      You are quite right though – it’s much more complex than a quick mnemonic. If the idea of ARR can help a manager at least reflect on their practice then it’s worth considering.
      Now, can you sort out this male deer in my cabin…I think there’s a Buccaneer.


  2. Hi Andy – great blog – my frien Shawn Achor ex prof of positive Psychology from Harvard wrote “the happiness advantage” a few years ago. He recently came to lunch with some very senior HRD’s and we began the conversation on the grounds of “what would we call this in the UK?” – Aumming happiness is a “no go”. After Shawn had worked his magic on us for about 5 minutes the same people we’re saying “we have to stand up and call it happiness!”. Did we get that cup of tea booked in?


  3. As you posit Andrew, these are some essentials of good management. They take effort, empathy and being present. They also fall into the ‘nice to do’ when under time or volume pressure. This is why your pirate memory peg is not just fun, but a usefully effective reminder. Every day can be talk like a pirate day! Nice post BTW.


    1. Thanks Ian – I’ve always enjoyed pirate history and you’re right, it was very egalitarian with many captains voted in by their crew. If they lost the influence over the crew they’d be *cough* removed.


  4. Thanks for the great post Andrew. If I find a pastry at my desk I actually treat it with suspicion. I guess that’s what happens when you flexidesk…

    But jokes aside, management does need to be a ‘bit human’ when it comes to managing others in the workplace. What you mentioned above really is how we should be treating each other. However, the true nature of a good manager comes out when the times get tough and the pressure is on. Do they still continue to do these when the pressure is on? Are they genuine?

    I’ve had some doozy of bosses in the past and many of whom I’d cross the street to avoid. On the whole though, the best ones I remember are the ones who made me a better team player, worker or challenged me in some way.


    1. Thanks Helen and a fair point about managing under pressure. The best managers I’ve had are still able to maintain the ARR style when the pressure’s on and that adds another R to the mix – Resilience.


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