Surprising Leadership Lessons From The Sea

“We’re all equal before a wave.” ~Laird Hamilton

While surfing in Maui (park at mile marker 12 near Ukumehame Beach Park for nice swells!) I realized how the sport provides a perfect metaphor for how to navigate leadership and life.

  1. The Hawaiians say “Never turn your back on the ocean.” This means don’t turn your back to energy, don’t be arrogant and think you are more powerful than the sea. You aren’t. Likewise, don’t turn your back on your business, your loved ones, the forces that support, sustain and influence your life. Stay aware and engaged.
  2. Always use a leash. The leash tethers you to your surfboard. When you wipe out, which will happen, you don’t want to swim all over the place and wear yourself out searching for your board. Make sure you always have your foundation nearby. Whether your foundation is your team, your family, your friends, your advisory board-keep it nearby.
  3. When you get thrown, protect your head and search for the surface. In a wipe out surfers put one forearm on their head to prevent a concussion should their board hit them. They move the other arm back and forth in front of their face to find the surface. The lesson is protect your head in a tricky situation and find your way to the surface as quickly as possible.
  4. Constantly adjust your position. When lying on your board and either paddling out to sea or in to shore to catch a wave, your position will determine your ride. When paddling out to sea, if you’re too far from the nose (tip of surfboard) a breaking wave will push the board up and you’ll lose your balance. When paddling to catch a wave, lying too close to the nose will push the board downward and you’ll lose your balance. When lying in a balanced position, with your feet near the tail of the board you’ll be able to stabilize yourself by grabbing the rails (sides of the board) when heading into and wave, and you’ll be positioned well to stand up and ride the wave if you want to catch it. Life and business are all about adjusting your position, or course-correcting. If you’re not getting the ride you want, or if the “waves” are resisting you, adjust your position.
  5. When a wave comes, ride it. Once you catch a wave and the ocean’s power is propelling you forward, it’s key to keep your balance and gradually stand up to ride it. This is a humbling experience-you’re being carried at high speeds on a force you cannot control, so the best option is to go with it. You adapt, surrender, follow where the wave wants to take you. You enjoy the ride. This is where fear comes up for most of us. We feel an exciting current, whether it’s a business opportunity, a new relationship, or a chance to move forward in our lives and we make a choice: ride it, try to control it, or let it pass by. Yes, sometimes it’s scary. When this happens I acknowledge the fear and generally chose to ride the wave, the opportunity. Because the vast majority of the time the ride is exhilarating and transformative and worth it!

Lessons From The Sea CCA

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