Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fishing for Leadership

I grew up on Lake Michigan where fishing was a common activity. My parents used to let me skip school once a year to go ice fishing with a man in our church who was a trophy winning salmon fisherman. I attended college and ultimately got a job about 40miles inland, and my fishing came to a halt. My wife and I moved to Atlanta 7years ago and fishing was more of a memory than an activity.

We moved to Florida a few months ago and our backyard sits on a good-sized pond. I was excited to get the chance to get back to fishing. My boys started catching bluegill consistently, so I thought I'd test the pond a bit and took one of their fish. I put a hook through its back, attached a large bobber, and sent it out. Within five minutes I got a large strike that left me with only the head of my original fish! The boys got another fish and I sent another one out. Within five minutes, the same thing happened, only this time I got about half my fish back. I got him on a few more times, but either my line kept breaking or my hook wouldn't set right.

I quickly became obsessed with catching the fish in my pond. It became clear that I needed new line and some different hooks. I made multiple trips to the sporting goods store to ensure I had what I needed. We saw a fin sticking out of the water multiple times and tried to figure out if this was a bull shark in the wrong neighborhood.

Once I had the right equipment, the fish stopped biting. Figures, right? I kept trying to entice him with fresh, live fish, but got nothing in return. It was frustrating because I knew I wasn't crazy. The guys in my office made me a shark helmet to wear when I caught my nemesis. They thought it was hilarious, and I thought it was funny but also wanted to show them that I wasn't crazy.

Two weeks ago I decided to try smaller a bluegill and finally got a strike. I ended up pulling the bait out of its mouth. The hook didn't set. We tried another fish. This time when the bobber went down, I counted to six (my 7yr old son was right next to me), and I set that hook as hard as I could. This time there was nothing getting in between me and the fish. My 30lb test line was more than enough. The hook worked like a charm. In fact I even added a red insurance hook to utilize color. I started to bring him in and after a couple splashes figured out what I had – a catfish. It wasn't just any catfish either, it was about 35lbs!

My boys went nuts! I let my older two wrestle with him for a bit while my wife held on to them to make sure they didn't end up in the pond. We made a great memory!

When my wife and I reflected on the whole experience later, she reminded me of some great principles that translate into life and leadership:

  1. Patience – anything worth doing in life will take time and effort. Nothing comes easy. It's part of paying the price for success. Companies, teams, and big fish don't just happen. It takes focus, time, preparation, and patience to succeed.

  2. Equipment – in order to be the most effective you need the right equipment. The last time I changed my line I was 13 or 14. I would say the age of my line had a lot to do with its effectiveness. You've got to stay fresh and prepared. Your success is largely determined by your equipment.

  3. Approach – I changed hooks, hook placement, casting location, time of day, outdoor temperature, size of bait, etc. multiple times. I knew I would get him at some point. I just needed to continue to be open-minded and creative. Don't be afraid to try multiple ideas when leading people or growing business – your approach matters.

When it was all over, the memory I made with my family far outweighed the 35lbs of catfish that I took out and released back into my pond. The truths I modeled for my boys, much like the truths you model for your team, will stick in their minds forever.

Consequently, I think I've got a few big fish in my pond and that this big catfish is just one of them. I'm still hunting the fish that keeps eating half of my bait since catfish don't have teeth!



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Humble Leadership

Leading with humility is a prevalent topic among the well-known leadership thinkers of our day. It continues to grow in popularity because we don't often see it. What we're used to seeing are people who are self-proclaimed know-it-alls who overstate the importance of their thoughts while undervaluing the opinions of those around them. Ironically, we typically miss the fact that people are attracted to those who are humble and vulnerable – especially when they're leaders.

I can easily identify with the know-it-all crown because I am a recovering one. Some days are better than others. I can't put my finger on exactly what happens, but when I get into a discussion I think my words carry more validity than the people around me. I honestly don't know why, but it is a struggle. The toughest part is learning to actually be open-minded enough to entertain ideas that are different than mine.

Here's the weird thing – there are others who I trust implicitly and I allow their opinions to completely reshape my own. Why the dichotomy? I think part of it is that I trust and respect those peoples' opinions more than my own. Their success in life demands that I listen and think about their viewpoints. It's when I run into those whose life experience I don't respect or appreciate that my know-it-all weaponry comes out in full force.

Is this a good thing? No. Do I need to work on this? Yes. I need to work on it because I need to embrace humility. As Pat Lencioni once said, "Being humble doesn't mean you're always popular." I struggle with this too because I like to be known. I love attention as long as it's positive. Who wants negative attention? No one. Being humble doesn't mean I cave to every opinion, but instead it means that I interact and view others in a different manner. It is true that you can't give what you don't possess. Therefore, I want my know-it-all voice to get smaller so that I can live in humility. I recognize that I'm not the smartest, wisest, most successful person on the planet. If I truly embrace that thought, I need to live like it, but writing is easier than living.