How can we, as leaders become more attuned to the things we are blind to? What does it take to be willing to see our limitations and transcend and transform these l to be leaders of the future?
Tony was teaching me how to cast a rod. Before venturing to the vast oceans of the Whitsunday Isles he suggested I might want to practice on the lawn in front of our remote beach shack. I was very comfortable with a hand-line but with just two rods, Tony suggested we progress to ‘big kids’ toys.
I immediately thought of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition (not what most people might ponder with a rod in hand) and recognised I was back at the bottom – in Beginner mode, knowing that to ever catch a fish, I must master this new skill- and we wanted to catch a fish. We came to this remote place with a healthy vegetarian shopping haul, assuming we’d procure the rest from ocean.
Tony is a Master Coach. He’s also a great fisherman. As it turns out, he was not the only Master I’d encounter this week.
He walked me through my apparatus. I listened. I noticed that I was itching to get to the shore… I also noticed a little impatience.
Cast 1 – Not so pretty. I forgot to flip the ‘bale’ (a little clip that releases the line and let’s my sinker and bait extend to the sea).
Cast 2 – OK, bale was flipped, but a small distance to start. Better though.
Cast 3 – A little better. Awkward, not so good looking. Too much of my body and not enough of my wrist.
Cast 4 – Much better. It’s going, going. Uh-oh. Hello power line! Hmpffff. My line and two sinkers were strung over two electrical power lines. Tony said it was OK. Just slowly draw the line in and they’d move over the cables. My ears heard that instruction, but it was corrupted on the way through – for whatever reason. My inner ‘tape’ said “this will work best if you pull it fast, give it a good yank” – and so I did. I ignored Tony’s instruction for mine and the result? The sinker responded with three giant loops. Loop 1, over the closest power-line, followed by to more tight wraps. The sinkers were now secured to the electrical cable and me to the other end via the rod – it wouldn’t budge. What now?
We cut the line as a safety precaution and decided the beach was safer! But what I noticed was my defiance of instruction. Was that just about Tony’s directions, or was this something that happens more often in life? I had a long time to ponder this as I moved to the beach and practiced over and over – until my casting was good enough to progress to some real fishing! Was I at Advanced Beginner yet?
What’s real fishing you ask? A professional trip in a real boat with a Captain – a whole day on the ocean. My ‘Advanced Beginner’ fisher-woman felt a bit nervous about heading out of the harbour with four ‘blokes’ and a professional rig. I noticed my concern for being under-skilled. I noticed the mood it evoked and the tinge of anxiety.
Our instructor Richard was very ‘okka’ – that means a ‘real Aussie guy’ with a thick accent and lacking the finesse you’d expect in a tourist experience – like introducing you to the other guests and identifying facilities. I suspended my judgments (of just how a tourist experience should be) and enjoyed our long and choppy transit to fishing hole #1. He navigated the conditions well, so I accepted ‘good driver’ as more important than ‘good host’. I was certainly in his turf.
Pulling into a bay, we were astounded to see fish leaping from the water. I mean HUGE fish! As I turned my head to see what they were, somehow, Richard has jumped from driver seat, grabbed a rod and in one tiny flick of the wrist cast a line RIGHT into the middle of the fish. Bang! He had a bite right away on the little lure. I am talking 10 seconds! Magic.
He nonchalantly handed the rod to the young guy on the boat and said “bring her in”. Then he coached him through the characteristics of the Tuna catch, saying ‘let it run’ and ‘bring it in’ and ‘keep the pressure on it’ … until that little beauty was in the net by the side of the boat. This was a BIG fish! I realised I was in the hands of a Master. He proved that as the day inched on. He knew the conditions, winds, every fish we caught, the tides, the legal size, what was poisonous, what was good eating, what to let go, what apparatus to use. He was effortless and so very humble.
We soon dropped anchor for a spot of group fishing. I declared my novice-hood! It was a relief to let them all know I was just learning and all pressure I had to perform was abolished.
I dropped my sinker for the first time. Richard was watching. He said, “you’re not on the bottom yet”. I looked puzzled – how could he tell? Then “you have a fish”. I looked at my line and had not even seen it twitch. Then “no, it’s off”. I looked at Tony – I felt nothing. Seriously!!! He was so Masterful, he saw the tiniest tap and movement and I had not felt a thing. I was in awe. Also beautifully aware of how long this journey to mastery might be! That said the sun was beating on my back, the ocean was swaying and I thought that the pursuit of mastery – maybe 20 years in the making delivered some great fringe benefits.
I was instructed to drop my line right below the boat. A simple instruction. But I noticed my defiant little voice saying “my intuition says that’s the spot” and so I cast about 10 metres towards the bow.
My little voice was back again. No, I did not catch a fish 10 metres out! Everyone that dropped below the boat did though! I noticed the destructive and non-compliant nature of this voice and I began to reflect on where else it played out. I thought yes, this is part of my success formula to date, since it’s the voice of the determined driver, the rule breaker, the non-conformist. But I suddenly saw it as a visible limitation – and something I had been blind to until this week – taking the time and space to be a different kind of observer of myself – through the act of fishing and in needing to be a learner again. Resistance can come in sneaky little forms – just like this.
This week of reflection was so desperately needed. With business and life expanding so quickly, I know I’m going to learn from new Masters in my world. For that, I need to be a different kind of listener and that requires me to catch this defiant self in these key moments of influence and to listen without my habitual soundtrack.
Catching this habitual soundtrack is a small victory. It’s also kind of ugly. Who wants to admit that they have an inner voice that’s fast to diminish other people’s ideas and equally fast to promote their own. But do we all have one of these? It might not sound like ‘I know better than you’ (erghhhh – public now) but perhaps we all have one of these and it’s not the voice that’s the issue, it’s our blindness, our incapability of seeing it.
How can we create the conditions to be able to see these limitations and, by virtue of seeing them, transform them? This is a courageous trip. But there’s a point where it’s not frightening to see them, but liberating. Once we see these ‘old friends’ or habits, we can be on high alert and ask ourselves whether we wish for these to persist or perish. We become powerful navigators in our own lives.
Our day jobs involve helping people see and navigate these ‘invisible stories’ and become more flexible and open in choosing ‘moment to moment’ behaviours as they construct and create themselves and the world around them – one experience at a time, one conversation at a time. It is often easy for us to identify these in others – far more difficult in ourselves. We do this as coaches and mentors.
In this story, Richard and Tony became my Coach and Mentor. Helping me see what I was blind to and creating a new kind of awareness of my very unhelpful habits that limit so much when they’re playing out. What if I could just ‘drop them’. This is the possibility I am living into.
Here’s my declaration
“Dear old story. Thank you for accelerating my growth to date. You have served me well, because there were times where I needed to back my own judgement as to the best way. Now, I am cultivating a new ‘way of being’. I want to listen to understand and take on other perspectives as equally valid as my own. I want to do this to open out new learning for the sake of creating a more flexible self and in that a more responsive business and team. I also want to see others as legitimate no matter what they share. The new story begins.”