There is something exhilarating when one is in the ocean learning to stand on a surf board. There certainly are lessons to learn while learning to surf.
Pretty much every time I’ve been in Hawaii I’ve taken a surfing lesson. This last time was a little different. I see so many parallels to leadership in everything I do, be it painting, running or what I call my surfing lesson #1.
Leadership lesson #1
My instructor this time, a woman, started right away with leadership lesson #1. “Surfing students who have Ph.D. she said “are too much in their head.” Great I thought; having an M.A. and a Psy. D. won’t help me and she was right. I had no problem catching the wave, knowing when to turn and get ready for it, knowing how to position myself and even getting on my knees, but wow when the wave started taking me fast I was stuck in my head and could not get myself off my knees. It took many waves before I had to tell myself to “push up, get up and do it even if you’re scared”.
Take a risk, let go and just do it!
When my clients are trying on a new behavior they have not tried before it takes them out of their comfort zone. They are afraid that in trying the new behavior they might fail and/or they might fall. Sometimes cognitive defenses show up. “I’ve been doing this, why can’t people see it?” Or “what are people going to think?” Or “it’s going to feel awkward.” My recommendation to them is try the new behavior even though it might feel uncomfortable. Let go and do something different. For example a client of mine who was afraid to speak in meetings started to speak up a little at a time. She also had a colleague who would nudge her under the table to speak up. She is now fully comfortable speaking up at meetings.
Leadership lesson #2
I was in the ocean with my instructor and another student. The other student gave up after two tries. I had just run a marathon and had been doing weight training for two years. The other student did not have the stamina to continue. My mind was racing. The last time I tried this there were more people and a couple of younger students, who were not afraid. I thought if I had more students around me I could get fueled by the competition – or if I saw others able to do it I could be inspired. At a certain point I realized that you just need to muster the strength to get up and force yourself to do it, and I did. I did it twice and it felt incredible.
Be prepared, stop the excuses and don’t be afraid to fail!
My clients are mostly prepared. They are good at what they do and if they are missing professional or business skills they make a plan to get what they need. You need a foundation and knowledge to be able to tackle new skills.
Most excuses my clients have are fear based. I was afraid of falling. After a while I got really good at falling down and even enjoyed it. At a one point, I fell off the board and cut my lip. When I told this story to a couple of people later (my lip was swollen at the time) they all asked me “did you keep going?” With a big smile I said, “yes of course I did”. My lip was like a trophy that day. I was proud that I kept going and was able to stand up twice. I tell my clients continually you get two months of practice or more to fail. I give you full permission to fail when you try and practice the new behavior or behaviors. Many seem to be relieved when getting permission to fail and are then open to trying out the new behavior.
Leadership lesson #3
I was visiting Honolulu to run a marathon with a running friend after 14 years since my last marathon. We had booked a vacation on the North Shore. This was not planned, but when I got to the North Shore of Oahu the Billabong Pipe Masters on Sunset Beach, minutes away from where I was staying, was taking place. Kalani Lodge had mostly surfers staying there and I was surrounded with a TV on the lanai and surfers watching every morning to see is surfing would to take place every day. I got to spend a day watching the competition. I heard stories about where surfers would travel for competition and where were the best waves. It was like stepping into a new world and it was inspiring. I love the ocean. I’ve been doing a 1.4 mile swim every year to raise funds on Cape Cod and have started to do 1 and 2 mile swims in different beach towns in NJ. I’ve signed up for the Honolulu marathon next year and would like to take not 1 but at least 3 surfing lessons next year. I have added New Zealand to my bucket list for my next surfing experience.
Surround yourself with people who are experts and find inspiration!
If my clients are trying to be more strategic or learn to network more, be more organized or learn to be more analytical, I tell them to partner with someone who already is. I also suggest that they get a mentor or a peer that is good in what they are trying to develop. I suggest that they read books on the subject, surround themselves with people who are experts at it and attend meetings, events or conferences on the subject. Immersing yourself in a subject and surrounding yourself with the people who are experts or for whom the new behavior or skill is easy is a great way to grow and learn.
I love learning especially when it involves an exciting new sport. I had no idea I would see so many parallels to leadership. I’m in my 15 year of consulting and coaching and see leadership lessons every time I learn something new.
Here is to my next wave and to your next new leadership behavior you master!!!
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