4 Salty Leadership Lessons From The Beach

Your vacation might be right around the corner.  Mine, on the other hand, is quickly fading in the rear-view mirror.

As I reflect on a week of 100 + degrees in Florida with 11 family members (6 under the age of 10) packed in one beach house, juggling different time zones, nap times, food interests and snack preferences, we certainly endured our share of emotions, noise, and chaos.

Interestingly and unexpectedly, there were 4 leadership lessons that emerged beneath the chaos.  Lessons not only valuable for ‘next time’, but also, lessons that served fresh perspective on leadership in the workplace.

If you’ve ever had the great fortune of getting smacked in the face with a ocean wave, as my 3 kids and I did several times, then you have first-hand experience with the rapid burning rush that stretches down your throat as a giant gulp of seawater pours into your mouth.  It’s salty.  And it burns.

Fair warning – the 4 lessons below are salty.  They will burn inside.  Maybe you will burn with regret as I did, agreeing that you’ve missed opportunities to lead.

1.  Ovens Need to Cool Down

You’ve been there.  Multiple families in one house trying to organize meals, activities, and events for an entire week.  Too many chefs in the kitchen pushing separate agendas and opinions.  Often leading to moments of contention, disagreement, and frustration, things can get heated emotionally and relationally very quickly.  Not uncommon.  Not unusual. But not pleasant.

Think of the times in the office or even at home when the pressure of a strained relationship, a decision, a disagreement hijacks emotions.  If you have your emotion-radar on, you can immediately sense a change in tone of voice, body language or mood that sends you an internal notification to self that something is not right.

Regardless of fault, trying to repair a relational gap or reach a difficult decision can’t be done in the heat of the moment.  If you open the oven while it’s still hot, you’ll get burned every time.  As leaders, walking away from the moment to let the oven cool down is the secret sauce to making sound decisions and effectively addressing relational barriers.

2.  Connect With EachOne (not Everyone) 

Yes, a new word for Webster’s.  Eachone.  Vacations are about connecting with eachone, not everyone.  Too often as leaders (both at home and in the office), we generalize our desire to connect with everyone.  We bring teams together for lunch on Friday or big dinners on the last night of vacations with entire families.

While certainly difficult to do at times, what people (including children) need most from a leader is one-on-one time.  A week on vacation with 4 children and your spouse will certainly keep you busy finding alone time with eachone to do something special.  What your family and team needs most is a leader who connects with eachone, not everyone.

Skip the big dinners and build one-on-one time into your vacation or work calendar now – it’s the kind of long term investment that will pay big dividends years from now.

3.  Communicate to Terminate

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships”

The most common and perhaps damaging mistake we can make as leaders is failure to communicate.  We make assumptions about how people should act, think or do something in a particular way and when they don’t, we can quickly become frustrated and upset.  Over time, if we are not proactive, the failures of a person to meet your assumptions about how they should act can begin to build up like termites eating away at the foundation of a house.  Before you know it, the damage is irreparable.

Our vacation week was littered with little termites that could have been terminated with better communication, including what time we were leaving for the beach or which restaurant we were dining at each night.  When you put the microscope on your individual and team relationships at home or at the office, are there termites present?

Communicate to terminate.  People need clear, consistent and constant communication to stay in lock step with each other, regardless of the leadership scenario.  You need to be proactive and assertive with expectations of others in order to create the kind of growing relationships that are the mark of great organizations and teams.

4.  Make Memories

Vacation with the family is all about making memories, right?  Whether it be the beach ball-size snow cones, trips to an out-of-state urgent care, or late night bike rides, everybody leaves vacation week with a special memory.  And, as you might expect, multiple electronic devices in ‘memory-overload’ with photos and videos from the week.

As we return from vacation, my wife and I ask each of our children (typically at dinner time) to share what was most memorable from the week’s vacation.  It’s fun to not only recount our steps through so many fun activities, but the question provides interesting insight into each of our children as individuals – inspirations, passions, new found interests, and most importantly, which specific memories are burned in their minds and hearts.

What if we redefined part of our leadership approach and / or role in the workplace to be Chief Memory Maker?  What if you got under the hood of the people you lead to really learn what memories were made in the workplace last week?  On your most recent project?  Find out what memory is burned in their mind or heart, specifically, from the work they did on that recent product launch.

Most people have an inherent desire to be part of the memory.  Want proof?  Open your video or photo files the week after vacation, and watch your entire family flock to your side to sneak a peek.  The same dynamic exists in your office.  You have the power to create the kind of memories that will last a lifetime.

What about your customers?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask them what they find most memorable about the last experience they had with your call center?  Or, what do they remember first about the last visit to your website or storefront?

Imagine where conversations such as these might take you and the people you lead.  Two words:  unchartered waters.

And that may be exactly the kind of leadership your organization and family needs right now.

That salty ocean wave doesn’t stand a chance.

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