Monday, June 3, 2013

Hooked on Leadership

He caught my eye as I walked toward the river on a very hot day. The young man in overalls,fishing with a simple cane pole, was hauling in a nice sized fish.

"What 'cha catching?" I asked.

"Mullet. Landed a couple already," he smiled. "You know, you can't fish without a license in Florida unless you are in your own county and you are using a cane pole."

Why, no. I had not known that.

He continued with a wide grin, "I didn't have a cane pole, but I had a tiki torch! So I just cut it in half, wrapped string around it and commenced to fishing!"

Eureka! I thought. This was the real life application I had been searching for, as I prepared an article on the necessity of flexibility, ingenuity and tenacity in the role of a leader.

When you are in a leadership role, situations do not always go according to plan. Wait. Let's face it. They frequently do not go according to plan. In those cases, the successful leader is able to adjust, adapt and advance---just like this determinedly creative fisherman.

  • Adjust. When confronted with obstacles, challenges, lack of resources (financial and human), and last minute changes, the successful leader doesn't fall apart along with the plan. The successful leader takes a breath, takes a step back, and takes control of the situation. Like the man who wants to fish, but learns that he can't because he doesn't have a license, the successful leader refuses to walk away, blame the plan, and abandon the goal. The successful leader will make a conscious decision to stand his or her ground, rework the plan, and search for an alternate route or innovative tools to reach the goal. The successful leader doesn't blame the circumstances or people that are interfering with the plan, but (with a nod to this fisherman) will look at the river, focus on the fish that are in there, and adjust the plan to find a way to get those fish out of the river and into the bucket. Plan A didn't work? Adjust to Plan B, or C or Z. The successful leader does not allow a "no" to translate into a "never."

  • Adapt. "How badly do you want it?" That's the question I repeatedly asked my daughters as they were growing up and pursuing this goal or that. I now pose the same question to my clients. "How badly do you want it?" Anything worth having typically doesn't come easily. As a leader, are you willing to adapt to the changing circumstances, personalities and resources? Are you willing to work harder or longer? Are you willing to try something that's never been done before--- a new way to do an old thing? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone, stretch your mental muscles, listen to someone with less experience but perhaps more imagination? Are you willing to stop focusing on what you don't have and look around to see what you do have that will adapt to the changing situation? Are you willing to find a tiki torch, cut it in half and "commence to fishing?"

  • Advance. When a crisis hits and a plan falls apart... there is often a lot of activity. People race here and there, voices are raised, arms are flailed, blame is laid... and in the end there is very little forward movement. The successful leader who has adjusted the plan, and adapted the formula or resources or tools to meet the needs of the evolving situation, uses quiet confidence to advance toward the goal. The successful leader understands that this may mean sitting patiently, quietly and still until the bait of the new approach takes hold. It may mean moving from one spot to another until you find the most favorable environment for the adapted plan. It will always mean taking responsibility for the adjustment, ownership of the adaptation, and oversight of the advancing movement.
By the time that I finished my walk along the river and came back around to the young man with the improvised cane pole, I found he had caught more fish and was happy to show off his trophies. Like that fisherman, the successful leader also understands the importance of celebrating the ability to adjust, adapt and advance--- and of sharing that success with the people around him. 

A cane pole, a mess o' mullet---and a practical lesson on leadership qualities. 

Pay attention. It's not just another fish tale.