La Bamba Leadership

No soy marinero…

I really dig La Bamba.


La Bamba proves pop hits can transcend language barriers. Aquí is the rough translation.


To dance The Bamba, you need a little grace.                     

For me, for you, up, up…. For you I will (x3).                       

I’m not a sailor, I am The Captain….


Simple, yet profound. I like nearly all La Bamba manifestations.


The movie with Lou Diamante Phillips? .

The song by Ritchie Valens? Absolutamente.

The burritos as big as your cabeza? Por supuesto.

Pssst. Your body is going to hate you mañana….



(pohr sooh-PWAY-stoh)

Of course



But more than the cinema, música and caloric gluttony associated with La Bamba, I dig the message – el mensaje (mayn-SAH-hay) – in the lyrics. One line in particular resonates with me:


Yo no soy marinero, soy Capitán….


Classic line. It means “I’m not a sailor, I’m the Captain….


Easy translation here as Marinero (mah-ree-NAY-roh) and Capitán (kah-pee-TAHN) are both Spanish Twins. Señor Valens is making a statement here: “I’m not just another hombre on the ship, man. I’m the Captain. I’m The Man!

This is a choice. A choice between being “one of the guys” or being The Guy. A choice between Management and Leadership. A choice between managing things and leading people. A choice between “punching the clock” and changing the world.

These are all choices.

Failure to make a choice is still a choice. It’s just a choice to be a Marinero. Failure to make a choice means you don’t want to be a Capitán. The world needs ditch diggers. Ships need marineros. And that’s OK.

On the jobsite, this choice is critical. There are so many people doing so many things, you cannot even dream of managing every activity. In your pursuit of absolute efficiency, don’t forget business – and life – is all about relationships. It’s about people. While you can be efficient with things, you cannot be efficient with people.

The individuals working on your job must understand the overall goal of the project and where they fit into it. They must understand the whole, but focus on their specific piece within the whole.


This requires Leadership.


To lead on today’s jobsite, you need language skills that effectively reach your audience – the workers on your site. Whether that means you pick up some Spanish skills, Polish skills, or whatever language recent college grads speak – the point is the same. Leadership requires a connection to those you wish to lead.


You can manage a specific activity. You can throw a saddle on the painting crew and ride them all día long until the punchlist is done, but let’s not confuse that with leadership.

Saddle up, vaquero de la pintura!


Surely language is not the only component separating Management from Leadership. Far from it. But language skills are the foundation of effective communication. Your words matter. The words you choose matter.


And without effective comunicación, you don’t stand a chance at managing or leading.


La Bamba illustrates how a collection of a few well-chosen words can overcome language barriers and resonate.


It’s your choice: Marinero o Capitán?

Bradley Hartmann is founder and el presidente at Red Angle (, a Spanish language training firm focused on the construction industry. 

Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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