I love scuba diving. Between the calmness of the water, the unique experiences, and how you tune in different parts of your body that you normally don’t pay attention to, it’s a wonderful activity to participate in.
Last summer, I attended a Scouting leadership conference at the University of Tennessee. During one of the sessions, we taught scuba basics to scouts in the Olympic pool there on campus. It was a great reminder of the leadership principles that we can model after scuba divers.
Prepare before you jump in
The first thing that you do before exploring underwater is a proper gear check. Does your mask work correctly? Does your tank have air and are the gauges and hoses working properly? Does your vest inflate and deflate as it should? Do your fins feel right? it could be a bad day for you if you just jump in without doing the safety checks first.
We face the same caution in our professional and personal lives, especially in areas where we are very comfortable. The ability to improvise is a great trait that serves you well in both your work and home life. The issue comes when you overuse that skill. You’re likely to come across as less professional, and your guests aren’t served as well or even consistently. More importantly, in some situations, you can be putting yourself and others in danger.
Don’t shortcut the prep time and attention to detail that needs to happen to be successful in your role.
Go slow to enjoy things
Time just seems to move slower underwater. There is so much to see and take in underwater! If you jump and simply swim around as much as possible, then at the end of the day there is really no difference between scuba diving at a coral reef or an Olympic swimming pool.
Life moves fast. In a few short months, we’ll dive into our time management series that gets at a core challenge: How do we manage time for ourselves and others when everyone is so busy? Run! Run! Run! is how many people operate their day (I’m guilty of this at times as well). One of the most important lessons that my mentor taught me early in my career was to slow down and spend time with my people. The work will always be there, if you finish a task another one will be right behind it. Your people however will not always be there. It’s one of the few guarantees of work. Slow down to enjoy and invest in your team. Admire the hard work and progress that the team has made. Taking time to slow down, also gives you a better appreciation of your job and the role that you play.
Keep close to your team
When diving, you should always have a partner, and your group should always have a team leader that keeps a headcount of where everyone is. Nearly all accidents happen in part because a person was on their own.
There is certainly a balance that needs to happen between micromanaging (Show 314, 315) and undermanaging (Show 325) In the middle of that spectrum is a leader that gives their people the space that they need, but also the support that they want in order to be successful.
Have a regular cadence of check-ins that makes sense for you and the other person.
Listen and learn about things going on outside of work.
Observe how they interact and accomplish their work.
Coach in the moment instead of letting things escalate.
Keeping close to your team is important for the health of the team and the individual.
Panic = more problems
Sometimes things can get weird while diving. Perhaps the air regulator malfunctions, you get turned around or disoriented, or you have an unexpected encounter with wildlife. The worst thing that you can do as a diver in those moments is to panic because it only agitates the situation further. Divers are trained to remain calm, signal for help, and surface in a timely fashion if it is safe to do so.
It is guaranteed that things are not going to go your way every day. In those moments of chaos, others will look to you to set the tempo and demeanor. Panic and surely they will as well. Remember to remain calm, and let the initial emotion wash through you as your brain needs a moment to catch up and then react. Your initial reaction is often not the best one.
Be like the scuba diver. Prepare for your week, take some time to slow down and enjoy the work, spend time with the team, and don’t panic if things go off the rails.
I love the sport of rowing. It’s exciting to watch the boats as groups of 4-8 rowers work in unison to get the small vessel, sometimes only as wide as your waist, to the finish line. It’s not uncommon for these races to come down to the wire with a second or less separating the leader from other contenders.
From the training to the race, there are quite a few things that you can model in your leadership based on rowers.
As Mike and I have taken the journey to get stronger and better shape, one activity that we both have picked up is rowing (on machines in our homes). It’s a fantastic full-body exercise that can be as challenging as you want it to be.
Rowing is also a great sport to watch and participate in, with races usually coming down to a second or less
Focus on the present when things get real
All the training is well and good until things get real and the situation doesn’t go as planned. When you think of Olympic-level champions, you may not think of Canada, but they won Olympic Gold at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.
One of the rowers, Adam Kreek, does a great job of telling an engaging story of their win that day. They raced enough to know that it would take the team 220 strokes to get to the finish line. He tells about the millions of strokes that were put in during the training just for it all to be reduced down to 7 strokes. Don’t worry about the other 213 strokes. Their coach had them put in 7 solid strokes, all out, and then refocus for 7 more.
There are a lot of distractions going on during the short amount of time that the race happens. (the crowd, the other boats, your teammates, your pain, etc) Adam shares how a distraction got the best of him for just a split second causing him to lose control of his oar. Both he and his called out to focus on the present. He was able to recover and the team moved on to victory.
Adam’s loss of focus could have easily cost his team the gold. In the military, we are taught that a loss of focus at the wrong time can cost you and others their lives. When a situation gets critical in importance and timing, stress consistency in order to be successful, help your teams stay laser-focused on what is directly ahead of them. One of the teams that I work with were struggling with a project that could have long-term implications for thousands of people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issue was that the debate about the long-term was costing us work on a short-term solution that needed to be settled that week. My mantra became, “Let’s focus on what we have to fix today so that we can have a chance to influence the future.” Once they changed their focus to the present, we were able to knock out a solution in under 24 hrs.
Embrace a group ego and shared leadership
I firmly believe in the power ofservant leadership and the thought of others over self. At the same time, I also believe that there is power in group ego. One of my proudest accomplishments during the operations-focused part of my career was restoring a region that was previously the most respected and highest-performing area but had lost its way. I leaned hard into shared success and touted the pride and honor of being a part of our team. Leaders bought back in and began owning their part of our success. In just two short years, we did it, restoring sales success and lowering turnover tremendously through the process.
The best rowers embrace the same mentality. Adam owned his error in the race. He called himself out and kept moving forward. That year at the Olympics, the Canadian team was catching all kinds of attention for what was regarded as unsportsmanlike conduct. The guys weren’t provoking anyone, but they were so sure of what they had built that they simply ignored the competition, because they felt the only true competition was themselves – to either win it or lose it.
Do your people take authentic pride and joy in being a part of your team? Is it propped up in a superficial way or will it wether any proverbial storm? Here are some tactics to begin to instill that in the teams that you are a part of.
Share the vision of where you want to go. Help them see the Why and the future state that you are trying to move towards.
Brag on each other’s progress.
Share examples of how the team is influencing the larger strategy.
Share feedback that you are getting about the team
Share customer stories about the group.
Celebrate and spread the news as others reach their career goals as a result of being on the team.
Create a team of leaders
The Canadian coach would tell Adam and the team that rowing was 90% athletic skill and 10% leadership. He lived that out as the team collapsed during the Olympics prior to their gold medal run.
The team had the first half of shared leadership down – a strong vision of the goal and how to get there. They lacked the power of the second half – they heavily relied on their coach for inspiration, direction, and accountability. Once they leaned into the power of leadership in each other, they unlocked a whole new level of potential. They no longer needed the coach to call out opportunities. Each was brave enough to do it themselves. The team’s point person ebbed and flowed depending on the situation and individual strength of the other rowers on the team.
Serve your team by building a group of leaders that is not dependent on your singular focus and vision. Your team will be better served, more adaptable, and have higher success as a result.
Sometimes success comes down to the inches and the details of the work that you and others do for your shared success. Adam’s team won the gold medal by a little over one second, which equates to 220 inches. How many strokes did it take the team from beginning to end? 220! They beat the next-best team by one inch per stroke.
Build pride in your team, help everyone own their responsibility, lower the focus down as things get challenging, and create shared leadership along the way.
Dolphins are loved across the world for their intelligence, playfulness, and curiosity. You’ll likely be hard-pressed to find a person who has a grudge against dolphins unless you are John Oliver. There are several things that we can learn from dolphins to apply to our own leadership and life walks.
They put others above themselves
Dolphins are very social in nature. As opposed to sharks, who live a solitary life, dolphins live in and operate in groups, called pods, ranging in size from 5 – 30. They live, eat, and sleep together and will always come to protect others in their pod where there is danger. They understand the importance of the group and will put themselves in danger in order to help others.
Do you find yourself living and working a solitary life like the shark, or do you do your best to contribute and raise the value of the whole team? Spend some time today thinking about your contributions to the teams that you are a part of. Celebrate those partnerships and the impact that you are having! We’ve done a number of shows on teamwork including:
Another great quality about dolphins is their willingness and ability to teach others in their pod. Older dolphins will focus on hunting skills and other activities and attributes for younger dolphins to thrive as they grow.
It’s said that knowledge is power and that is certainly true. Some co-workers will leverage knowledge as collateral in their role, hoarding info for a sense of power and safety. The behavior is rooted in a sense of safety; if I am the only one that knows how to do a task, then I should be invaluable.
Good leaders and partners know the power of letting go of knowledge instead of hoarding it for themselves. You often can make yourself more promotable by showing that you have developed your replacement as you interview for the next role. Openly sharing your skills and knowledge also provides you an opportunity to delegate tasks and responsibilities that free you up to do new and different things yourself.
They shift leadership responsibilities
Dolphins are very social and even though they live in pods, there is no clear-cut leader based on seniority or dominance. Leadership is fluid and natural. The leader will change depending on the situation around them and the strengths and abilities of the individuals in the group. They are egoless in nature, willing to step up and lead when needed but also just as willing to give up the spotlight and let another member of the pod shine.
I love this approach to leadership and often try to model it in my own life. Give those around you a chance to shine and lead when the situation is right. I will look for opportunities for the junior members of my teams and those I work with a chance to take on a part of the project or at speaking opportunities in front of a senior leadership group in order for them to get experience and recognition. The other bonus is that they often are the subject matter expert or they bring a whole host of knowledge and experience to the table that I do not have, which only makes the solution to the problem all the more stronger.
They are playful & curious
You’ve probably seen videos, or even experienced for yourself, the playfulness and curiosity of dolphins. They are known to check out passing ships in the wild, they enjoy playing in waves, and all around enjoy their lives.
Life is full of change and it seems like we are always in multiple serious world events happening at the same time. Add that on top of all the challenges that happen to you as an individual and it can get overwhelming. Remember to enjoy the small moments that happen throughout the day. I’ve been in a season of constant meetings, so for me having a chance to spend a few moments with my sweet little dog between meetings is great. Also, be mindful to set a block of time every day to do something for yourself that you enjoy. That may be some exercise, a hobby, or watching a show among other things. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of time, anything to help break up your day and to give your mind a chance to engage in a different way is helpful.
Be the dolphin by leaning into the power of teamwork, freely give your knowledge away, let go of ego while leading, and remember to take some time to have some fun along the way.
Vinyl records have certainly made a comeback over the last several years and now account for over a Billion dollars a year in sales. New Vinyl factories are being built to handle the large surge in demand and more are jumping into the vinyl collecting community every day.
My dad had a massive Vinyl collection, probably over 400 albums at its largest. It was a big part of my music history growing up and if you’ve been following the show for a while, you know that I started my own collection at the end of 2021. There are several things that we can take away from vinyl to apply and model in our own leadership walk.
The vinyl itself blows my mind when I think about it. Despite all the different widths and thicknesses that you can find them in, records are all the same – a round vinyl disc. The vinyl is carved with grooves and those grooves are read into unique music by the needle and speaker. That means that every song that has ever been made or will ever be made in the future is already on the disc – it’s just a matter of carving it out.
Much in the same way, there is greatness in you as well just waiting to be carved out as you strive for your fullest potential. There are many ways that you carve out your unique songs and stories along your leadership journey.
Life experiences that refine your character
Learning new skills by doing them over time
Continuing your personal and professional knowledge through training, classes, and even podcasts like this one
Interactions, both good and bad, with co-workers, family members, and others
Run at your own pace
Vinyl usually plays at one of three different speeds (33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, or 78 RPM) The grooves are cut into the record at this speed and typically impact the sound quality depending on the quality of the cut. When you play a record at a speed that it’s not meant to be played at it either sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks if it’s too fast or an octave-lowered slow jam if it’s too slow. It’s certainly not how you want to enjoy your music.
Be authentic by going at the pace that you were made for and carrying yourself in a that is true to who you are. You’ve seen it before – a person trying so hard to be something different that they are and struggling as a result (See shows: Don’t try too hard #136 & Promote yourself the right way #159) Stay in your proverbial groove so that you are playing your song in a way that attracts others.
They require care and maintenance
Neha and I have talked before about the process of maintaining our records. Her husband is a little more meticulous than I am, but I am mindful to keep mine in good shape so that will hold its value for a long time to come. The maintenance can be intimidating at first though. I remember when I got my record player in the mail, it came with white cloth gloves to assemble it. That instantly made me know that I had to be extra careful! There are brushes, sprays, and washes to keep everything nice and clean, you also have to be mindful of how you store them as well.
Isn’t it the same way as we attempt to take care of ourselves?
It can be quite intimidating and so much easier to put off for tomorrow, but we’ve talked many times about how time is the worst enemy that you will ever face in leadership and in life. Sure putting care off today, may not be bad but a day can easily lead to a week and then a month on to a year. Here are some shows and resources to help you stay on top of your personal care:
Take care of yourself so that you will play well today and years from now. No one likes a warped or broken record.
No matter whether you are working on your EP or your double-length LP, remember to keep refining yourself as you discover those next big hits, find and stay in the groove that’s right for you and take care of yourself. You’ll be setting yourself up for long-term success both at work and at home.
While most of the kids in my elementary school wanted to be sports stars growing up, I wanted to be a Jedi. I ran through the woods around our country home training to be a Jedi. During the summer, I would burn a whole day watching all three of the original movies back-to-back. I was certainly all in. I just needed a real lightsaber to cut down trees and through rock and I would have been set!
The Star Wars movies are certainly loved by millions across the world. Previously we covered Star Wars twice in our Findling Leadership series. Even still, I think there are still a few things we can learn in leadership by being a Jedi.
Be mindful of the present
Jedi are very intentional about being in the moment. They tap into everything that is going on around them to make the ultimate connection to the Force. That can be really hard to do in real life!
Today’s world is full of distractions that try to pull you away from the moment. Your phone, of course, social media, troubles, and stressors you have going on at work, school, or at home are just a few of the things that can pull you out of the moment.
You won’t be able to meet your fullest potential in leadership or in life until you can begin to appreciate and become fully involved in the moment in front of you. Distractions pull your engagement levels down with others, which impacts your relationships in a potentially long-term manner. Being pulled out of the moment also makes you miss the important things going on around you that will soon pass you by.
One of our more popular shows came from a listener question that centered around the question: Is the desire for more time really a desire for more meaningful memories? (EP 243) One of the themes from the show was that the lack of being in the moment made people feel like they needed more time or at least better time management in their day when in reality they needed to slow down and enjoy the day as it unfolds.
Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan Kenobi, ” Don’t center on your anxieties Obi-wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs.”
It’s a great reminder as we focus on getting our to-do lists down today while fully appreciating the moment in time that you are in.
Let go of fear and its power over you
Fear is a common underlying theme for nearly all the Jedi in the movies. Anakin chases fear that leads him to become Darth Vader. Yoda warns about its grip and power several times. Luke and Rey both faced fear in different ways as well. One of Yoda’s famous sayings is, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.”
Isn’t that statement true?
Fear can turn into the driver of our life if we let it. Think about people that you know or perhaps times you yourself hesitated because of fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown was always the biggest obstacle for me when I was running competitively on the obstacle course circuit. Those were certainly more mentally taxing than they were physical.
Fear of failure. (PTB 283) Fear of rejection. The list can go on and on about fear and its crippling power over both our personal and professional lives.
Actively combat fear cut off its hold over you. Do research ahead of time to help with the fear of the unknown. I would download course maps, go to the site early, and lay out all my clothes the night before a race to help ease the unknown.
Take small steps towards conquering your fear with the first goal of just stopping it from increasing space in your life. Once you gain some small victories, celebrate and move to start shrinking and ultimately eliminating that fear in your life.
In over 300 shows, there are a few underlying themes that we always come back to. One of those is the emphasis to have balance in your life. It’s certainly a trait the Jedi strive to have in their own lives. The phrase “a balance in the force…” is referenced or said many times as the Jedi teach each other. They are so attuned to balance that they famously get a physical reaction when things become unbalanced or there is a disturbance in the Force.
Is there a disturbance in the Force around you today? Are you off your game a little because you are unbalanced? It happens to all of us.
Self-reflect on the different aspects of your life today, from home to work or school. What’s taking up too much space? What’s not getting enough space? Those two simple questions can help enlighten you about opportunities to get things back in balance. Sometimes the demands of a project can take up more space in your life, which is ok as long as you don’t allow it to permanently occupy an unhealthy amount of space in your life.
I love willow trees. It stems from my early childhood when we didn’t have much, but we did have a huge (to me) willow tree that grew in our backyard. They are found all over the world, but the one in our backyard was the only one I saw as a child. It was unique, beautiful, and tree uniquely it’s own. Something that I also wanted to be growing up.
Here are a few things that willow trees can teach us about our own leadership and life walk.
They grow very quickly
Willow trees are one of the fastest-growing trees on earth, producing large amounts of biomass in as little as 4-5 years. It’s a tree that truly puts all of its efforts into growth and expansion. Willow trees take full advantage of the day, and so should we.
The idea of living a life full of personal growth, adventure, and experiences has been a huge personal driver for me in my adult life. Don’t let time be an excuse to put off something that you want or need to do. 15 years ago,
I lived in Birmingham, AL, and had a goal to visit every county in the state while doing some geocaching. I remember vividly when some of my friends stop me and commented how crazy I was for traveling so much when the price of gas was so high. My response was, “Gas is never going to get cheaper.” The price of gas then was about $2.30 per gallon then.
Another ambitious goal was to run all the Disney races in the US in one year. 29 races across both coasts. People thought I was crazy. I thought I was crazy! We saved up some money and we were able to make it happen. Two years later, all the West Coast races were canceled, and it wouldn’t be much longer before COVID would shut down the East coast races as well.
If you have a goal, don’t put it off. Life happens and will throw a curve or downright destroy the path to realizing your vision. Maximize your time like the willow tree to grow to your fullest potential.
Their presence adds value to others
Willow trees hold quite a bit of symbolism for different cultures. Some associate hope, compassion, a sense of belonging, and safety to the tree, while ancient Chinese culture believed that willow trees warded off evil spirits and brought good luck. There is just something about willow trees that bring people a sense of calm and security.
How are you doing in bringing calm and security to those around you? Do you inject drama and stress into the room when you arrive or do you give people a sense that things are going to be ok? Be mindful of how you carry yourself around others and reflect on the energy and value that you brought, or didn’t, to the gathering that you attended. Some people are great at either life or work scenarios but may struggle to carry the same level of commitment and excitement across both. If that’s the case, check your personal calling (EP 161) and your level of commitment to each part of your life.
They aren’t perfect
As beautiful as the willows are, they are not perfect. The fact that they put all their effort into growth, means that they are more susceptible to catching a disease and dying. Their roots are also aggressive and can be bad in residential areas that rely on underground and ground-level amenities like water pipes, drain lines, and buried cables.
Nobody should expect you to be perfect and if they do, you may want to check that relationship. Even though the willow tree looks healthy, it’s the flaws just underneath the surface that could get the best of it.
Don’t be too hard on yourself in leadership and life. It can feel like you are letting your team or your family down…and maybe you did, but that’s not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, and keep growing. Remember to lean into the power of accountability partners (EP 191) and mentors (EP 171) when things get tough, or you just need an ear to listen.
Embrace your flaws as you grow in your leadership and life walk. Put time in its place by being intentional and actionable towards your goals, be the luck maker for those around you, and remember to be a calming presence in both your personal and professional life.