Dr. Kate Lund Explores the Human Side of Leadership with Capt. Sandra Yawn

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Dr. Kate Lund, speaker and resilience expert

Capt. Sandra Yawn (“Captain Sandy”) is a leader, international speaker, businesswoman, TV star, and recognized hero whose exceptional leadership style has helped her overcome considerable obstacles. As a renowned superyacht captain with more than 30 years of international maritime experience, Yawn’s courage has earned her elite accolades, including recognition from the International Superyacht Society, who bestowed her with its Distinguished Crew Award for bravery in the midst of a catastrophic 2006 fire and pirate threat off the coast of Yemen. Tapping into her affinity for adventure, Yawn charted a new course for herself in 2015 when she became a series lead on Bravo’s hit series, Below Deck Mediterranean. 

Captain Sandy recently published a book, Be the Calm or Be the Storm: Leadership Lessons from a Woman at the Helm, sharing leadership lessons that have helped her achieve success. 

Dr. Kate Lund, a peak performance coach, best-selling author, TEDx speaker, and licensed clinical psychologist, interviews Captain Sandy on her podcast, The Optimized Mind, discussing leadership, lessons from the boat, and the upcoming book. 

“I didn’t have a dream to be a captain,” Yawn tells Lund, “but sometimes [life has] a calling, and you’re called to it.” 

Recalling the challenges of her younger years, she recounts struggling through treatment, halfway houses, twelve-step programs, and more. 

“One day, I woke up and I decided I wanted to change,” she says. “I wanted a different life.” 

After experiencing what she calls a “psychic change,” she tells Lund she knew there was a different life awaiting her. She went to dive school, learned how to be a dive instructor, and answered an ad to start washing boats. Working her way up to captain, rung by rung, required a mental, physical, and spiritual shift, she says, noting that while she didn’t always know where the path would take her, she always focused on the “next right thing.” 

BE THE CALM OR BE THE STORM 

Captain Sandy’s new book, Be the Calm or Be the Storm, pays homage to the human relationships that helped move her forward and describes how she recreates and fosters those same dynamics with the people she works with now. Of critical importance, she says, is the act of helping people see their own possibilities and then harness them.

Be the Calm or Be the Storm shares the leadership wisdom Yawn has collected over the years as a woman breaking barriers in a historically male-dominated field. Its takeaways include a breakdown of what it takes to provide five-star service, what it really means to invest in people, how to truly take responsibility, and more. 

The book came about after years of feedback from audiences who would reach out, telling the captain about what they learned while watching her lead a ship. After a period of deep collaborative work with a co-writer, the book was born. 

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM CAPTAIN SANDY

Yawn focuses quite a bit on self-leadership and considers it a critical aspect of personal and professional development. Recognizing, exercising, and improving one’s leadership skills can lead to greater success in all areas of life, she notes, and stresses that the ability to influence communication, emotions, and behaviors is an essential component of self-leadership.

One subtle but effective way to exercise self-leadership, she says, is to respond rather than react. In other words, when emotions are running high, taking time to ground oneself can provide the space needed to choose a thoughtful response. Then, checking in with oneself at the end of each day can help identify areas for growth and make amends as necessary.

The Below Deck Mediterranean star shares a range of leadership lessons learned by experience, including building character by following rules, doing kind things for others without recognition, and settling debts to develop and maintain integrity. Other lessons: learning to listen and see are foundational skills for investing in and supporting team members to reach their potential, and taking full responsibility for successes and failures fosters trust and respect.

If she could share the book’s topline takeaways for up-and-coming leaders, Captain Sandy says, they’re to remain teachable, invest time in people, not give up on those who are struggling, and recognize possibilities despite challenges.