Watch before you paddle: Understand the lay of the land
I sat still on the shore with my toes sifting through the sand watching the sets roll in like slumbering giants. It looked big - big enough to pause - but not so big that I paused enough and left my board under the shade of the coconut trees. The water churned with energy bubbling and frothing with intent. My board sat listless in the sand but waiting to plunge into the swirl and head toward the pitch.
Before every session I perform a ritual of observation. Whether in the parking lot, leaning on a sea wall, fidgeting my toes deep into the sand, or simply leaning against my truck; I study the surf. Every wave and every session has a personality. They’re like people filled with varying traits, preferences, angles, stories, moods, influences, and peculiar nuance. The wave needs to be understood to effectively engage. Like the proverb from 2x world champion John Lawerence, “Watch for a while. Watch from the beach longer than you normally would. Look for patterns and be a skeptic with your mind. It’s usually twice as hard to do in real life what you are doing in your head.” The pause is always a good thing - in leadership and surfing.
I learned the art of the pause through surfing and my lifelong battle with stuttering. I had to watch and listen and learn before the words could even make it out of my mouth. I spent a lot of time in silence. My struggle with stuttering helped me develop a discipline of overcoming obstacles and helped develop my compassion and empathy for others. It forced me to pause.
A good leader is not just there to give direction and verbal queues, but he or she is there to pause and listen so they can understand. Watch the people and teams a bit before you try and lead them. See the chemistry, the friction, the personalities, and most important see the individual and their strengths. Like a surfer that watches what the wave does every time, realize you are a part of something much bigger than yourself and watch who your people are so you can understand who you are leading.
Watch = Listen to your team. Connect with them through empathy so that you can understand the individuals in your team and lead them with insight and compassion. Watch from the beach longer than you normally would. It’s always 2x as hard to do in real life vs. what you see in your head.