Learning to fall and paddle riding the waves of your career
Irecently travelled from SA to Nicaragua. It took 33 hours to get to the capital, Managua, and then a bumpy, delirious two-and-a-half-hour, dusty road trip to a place called Playa Santana. The locals call this drive “the Nicaraguan massage”. Joseph Conrad might have called it a journey into the “heart of darkness”, but it was one of the most illuminating experiences I’ve ever had.
Our global office was experimenting with a leadership programme called LeaderSurf — a one-week course about leadership skills and learning to surf!
If you’re wondering what riding waves has to do with being a creative director in advertising, it’s more than you imagined.
The advertising growth path is a strange one. You start off as a junior copywriter or art director, whipping your words and ideas into shape. Then one day, you become a creative director and you’re asked to whip other teams into shape, to make ideas better, run your brands, build client relationships and be a leader. There is no rule book; you just have to do it, and do it with gusto.
I realised that many of my leadership skills were developed instinctively and through watching others. But instinct can only take you so far.
LeaderSurf helped cement some of that instinct with theory and analysis. I learnt varying leadership styles, the difference between leading and managing and fundamentals about conflict resolution.
I walked out with practical tools and a deeper layer of consciousness about what I do.
Companies that invest in their people are companies that are future-fit. I respect my leaders for growing their people and for doing it in a way that is true to advertising – finding a creative angle.
This was a creative course about leadership and everything about it made the learning exhilarating.
Apart from the classroom series, the ocean provided another kind of schooling. As a first-time surfer, here are some things I learnt:
● It’s easier for two people to carry two boards. When two people carry the boards, you each hold them at their narrow ends. Often, we begin a project by tackling the thick end of the wedge. It helps to start with the easy bits and to begin the journey as a team;
● Study the ocean before you get your feet wet. Before you channel Kelly Slater, you have to respect the ocean and understand the tides, current and wind. In observing the vastness of the ocean, you learn humility. It’s not about you. It’s about the people you’re leading;
● Get used to falling. To learn how to stand up on your board, you’re going to fall repeatedly. A leader who doesn’t understand what failure feels like can never truly appreciate success. Every fall is a lesson in the art of resilience and an opportunity to meet your true character;
A LEADER WHO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT FAILURE FEELS LIKE CAN NEVER TRULY APPRECIATE SUCCESS
● Get out of the way. Once you ride the wave, there are more waves and surfers coming. An important part of leading is letting go. Getting out of the way of your teams is knowing that you have to liberate as much as lead;
● Paddle, paddle, paddle. To gain momentum and catch the wave, you have to paddle with vigour. When leading, you have to plunge into the hard work and get the timing right. The opportunities are coming up fast, right behind you, and if you’re willing to engage those biceps, the right one is all yours.
I’m close to turning 40 and never thought I’d learn to surf. My biggest lesson in all this: we’re capable of updating our ways of thinking. We decide our own limitations. It’s time to approach the impossible with a surfer mentality – just shred it, dude.