I was once asked to relate surfing to leadership. I don’t recall the details of my response, but something made me think of this recently after a cold, winter surf.
Here are a few of the characteristics that come to mind.
Particularly in the ocean, a simple miscalculation can take a turn for the worse. The ocean has a way of reminding you to stay humble. Leaders reflect. They are aware of their ability, and even then, not over-confident. Leaders are humble and do their best to surround themselves with people that make the team better.
Surfers are part of a tribe. Surfing has a long history and culture. The entire process and lifestyle of surfing is often a commitment, but one that can be shared with friends and family. A career can be fun, certainly challenging, or even ultra-competitive in some industries, but the hope is that a career is meaningful, fun, and that within your career you’re part of a tribe. Leaders build camaraderie. Leaders make a commitment to a positive culture, foster relationship-building, and individual growth for the betterment of the organization and culture.
The ocean can oftentimes dictate conditions beyond one’s ability. In surfing, it’s best to have an awareness for dangerous and challenging situations; it wise to not put oneself or others in danger. Yes, one may still push and challenge themselves, but by listening to one’s gut and knowing one’s limits, you are not letting your ego make rash decisions. During challenging situations, leaders stay true to their core and don’t let their ego get in the way. They approach conversations with authenticity and are mindful while engaged with others. Finally, leaders are always learning and willing to use new information to grow, change directions with a decision, and use new learning to make people and processes better.
Besides enjoying the surf, and focusing on themselves and how many waves they’ve caught – surfers take it all in – the scenery, the horizon, the swell, the gulls surfing the spray of a wave. They’re aware of the current swell and understand the weather patterns that will create a future swell. Surfers react in the moment to the wave their riding and the conditions they’re in. But even more importantly, observant surfers are aware of who’s around them. They know where the little kids on the inside are paddling or swimming; they listen and look out for the whereabouts and well-being of other surfers. Similarly, observant leaders care for and watch out for everyone. Leaders take a humanistic approach to decisions. They have a deep understanding of the global picture of their organization. Leaders make calculated decisions based on the conditions, people, and the “health” of the organization. Leaders are also keenly aware of and seek opportunities for the growth of the organization.
I’m fortunate to work with a dynamic group of leaders that embody all of these characteristics. They make me do my best and make me better every single day.