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Leadership lessons from the lake

Leadership lessons from the lake

9 months ago I signed myself up a challenge….to swim 5.25 miles of Lake Coniston end to end. I had started open water swimming 6 months before and had completed my first 1/2 mile race. A little ambitious maybe. But I did not set myself a particularly high bar for speed. Completing it I thought would be an achievement in itself, the Lakes provide an epic backdrop and well, Ive always loved a challenge.

I did it Saturday. I can honestly say it was the most incredible, memorable,  exhilarating experience. My thought process about hiding out at the back whilst the pro’s led the way didn’t play out quite as expected as the slowest wave went in first! 6 months of training for 2 miles my longest distance before this one, meant that my pace was a little quicker than Id initially anticipated. So as it turned out I was leading out front for 2 miles until the faster swimmers started to come through. Mile 3 was very choppy, by mile 4 the arms were starting to feel it but then the end came in sight and I knew I had done it. I emerged from the lake with a huge smile on my face, not really able to stand up straight after just over 4 hours front crawl and very touched by the crowds who had come out to cheer the 750 swimmers home.  What is more, together my clients, friends and family have raised over £900 for Breast Cancer Care.

So yes I did it. But what is also clear to me is that this challenge has fantastic parallels with the work I do with my clients Commercial / HR directors and Exec teams, and a great experience for me as a trainer and coach:

  1. Targets – I entered the challenge back in Dec. Preparing for and working to a deadline definitely focused the mind in the months that follow on doing the things that would make it more likely I would achieve what I set out to!  Makes it less of an intention, a thought about how lovely it would be to do more exercise (which I have done many many times before I can tell you)…and it becomes real, concrete.  A goal + a purpose (and charity to swim for) + public commitment meant no going back. But the reality is I under shot how fast I would do it. Whilst it is important to ground targets in realistic assumptions, it is not uncommon for teams to aim low: to set what they definitely know they can do, or think they can do with a little slack there for unforeseen eventualities. Next time around I will absolutely know what I am capable of AND where I can stretch.
  2. Technique matters – arm placement, sighting, breathing, swimming in close proximity to others – there is an art to it worth learning. I took coaching and it sure makes things a lot smoother when you know how – and you have someone there alongside you to give you feedback on what you can’t possibly see yourself.
  3. Attitude matters even more – Confidence and belief really is half the battle won. It does take a little bravery to take the leap into to cold waters but once you are in, the ability not to panic under pressure, freeze up or give up when things get a little rough comes in handy! or indeed as was the case with some swimmers I have seen, shoot off too fast trying too hard to be first/the best and suddenly find the adrenalin drains your chest of the ability to breathe and you are being hauled out of the race. Calm confidence and a clear head at the start and a strong, fast finish gets results.
  4. Love what you do  – you might not always love every minute of the early starts, hours training in all weathers but it certainly won’t be a chore if you are clear why it is this matters to you in the first place and at heart, you love the experience, the environment you are in and the people there around you. If you don’t love it, do something else that you do.  There really isn’t much point persevering with anything that takes more than it gives. For you or anyone else around you!
  5. Swim your own race – what ever you do there will always be someone better, faster, younger, fitter or slower than you. Spend too much time looking over your shoulder or keeping up with the person in front and you will quickly find you losing focus on you, your stroke, your breathing (as perfectly demonstrated by me and my fellow coachees when we first tried swimming in another’s slip stream).  I guarantee that any focus or belief you may have had will disappear in the blink of an eye if the inner critic gets let loose.  Be aware of others around you, be alongside them, learn from them but focus on finding your own flow, get clear where you are going, and why. It has a habit of unlocking a power and energy that makes getting the result you want not only much more likely, but infinitely more enjoyable.

So one BIG challenge done and Im looking for the next one ….and another opportunity to learn and practice what I preach 🙂

All ideas are very welcome!

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