Skills to Stay Afloat

Leadership Reminders from The Gulf of Mexico

One of the delightful consequences of pausing my travels because of the pandemic is that I can swim in the Gulf of Mexico on a regular basis. At each encounter it commands some focus and attention before proceeding.  Recently the surf has been big enough to remind me of some basic strategies for staying afloat.  Many of these same strategies keep us afloat in our professional waters too. Happy swimming.

Always Face The Waves   Facing the waves isn’t as simple as it sounds. It requires we interact with and not get knocked over by the oncoming wave right while noticing and anticipating the next several upcoming waves. What’s their size, speed, shape and frequency?  Being able to quickly and appropriately address the immediate wave while noting what might be ahead is a most important skill for navigating complexity and uncertainty. Whether it’s a tricky conversation, a change initiative, an unexpected inquiry, or a changing marketplace, keeping our head up and not losing perspective of both the waves and the ocean supports our success, resilience, impact, and enjoyment. What waves are you facing?

Position Yourself    Each wave offers us options. We can float over the top before it’s fully formed, catch the crest and ride it through, or duck under and come up after the turbulence and white water has passed.  Exercising the right option requires we know what we’re up for, what we seek to achieve, our skill and stamina and an understanding of the pattern forming.  Sometimes we’re already in the right position and no action is needed. Sometimes we have to swim right towards the incoming wave, or scurry away and try to get ahead of it to be in the position we wish when it arrives.  Other times it’s the second or third wave out that has our attention and whatever we do immediately is really about prepping us for that future wave.  How are you positioned amidst your waves now? What have you learned from the past? What desired future position can you better stage now?

Keep A Foot On the Ground   When I was a kid, my dad would stand in one spot on the beach while my brother and I played in the Maine surf (brrr..).  He didn’t move.  More than keeping an eye on us, his purpose was to show us where we were as compared to where we started and where we needed to be when we were finished.   Without some way of knowing your grounding spot, it’s easy to let the currents and rip tides pull you off course, even out to sea.   How do you describe your target foot on the ground?  What is too far off course for you?  What are the signals you’re drifting?  What course correction might be needed?

Know Who Your Swimming With    Unlike some bodies of water, right now, the Gulf here is remarkably clear.  Imagine then my surprise when I realized a little school of 8-inch fish were within arm’s length of where I was floating and were moving closer. I was so absorbed in my own experience of the moment, I missed their approach.   It’s easy for us to forget to consider who we’re swimming with when we’re busy treading water, or responding to incoming waves.  More than just noticing, staying afloat requires we know the intention of other’s, how our intentions are perceived by those we’re swimming with, and what successful co-swimming might look like.  What do you know about those you’re swimming with?  How can you learn what they think of your actions, your intentions?  What parts of your environment are most important to keep an eye on such that you stay afloat?  

Don’t Pee In The Water    Our brain is wired to notice those little inconsistent oddities in an other’s behavior.  They alert our threat detection system and can influence how you are perceived.  If above the water you’re trying to pretend nothing is really happening while below the water you are trying to make some happen and hope no one will notice, well, you should know that we all know you’re up to something. Enough said.

Photo by Jaman Asad on Unsplash

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