5 Lessons for Leaders Learned From Fly Fishing in Patagonia

5 Lessons for Leaders Learned From Fly Fishing in Patagonia

THE FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT OF MELTON’S VIDEO “5 Lessons for Leaders Learned From Fly Fishing in Patagonia “:

Hi there, I am Tom Melton, and I work with Melton leadership.  I work with some of the best business and ministry leaders in Colorado, but one thing I’ve learned is, in the process of running large organizations and building complex teams, it becomes clear that no leader can lead all by themselves. I help business and ministry leaders to help themselves while helping their teams connect, clarify, and to grow.

Today, I want to talk to you about a couple ideas that I think will help you lead your organization. Let me start with the experience I had not too long ago. I was learning how to fly fish. I’ve never fly fished, but I was down in Patagonia at the very tip of South America with a friend who invited me to do that. Beforehand, I learned some of the basics of fly fishing with casting and how to tell where the fish are and a bunch of things like that. But we one day decided it was time to learn how to fish in a river.

We had been going in a boat and so in order to fish in the river, I had to walk in the river as they say, wade in the water. And I’m thinking, you know, I’m a full grown male and I’m fairly smart,  and I pretty much know how to wade in the water. The water was maybe 2 feet. Its wade is pretty much deep; it’s moving. I didn’t seem that bad, but I didn’t realize that there’s a real art to wading in the water. And fortunately, I had a good guy who was used to working with guys like me who thought they know everything – by the way you may be one of those people in your own job, the people I work with in executive positions often are like I was and think they know everything about wading in the water.

Well, I didn’t know and I was grateful that he gave me five basic tips and waiting in the water. The first tip was, and it seems elementary but it’s important, and that is, look before you step.  

Figure out where you’re going to go in the in the water. It’s easier just to step in the water and just start wading like you’re wading through the children’s pool at the local place where you swim, but there is a lot of danger in a river because at the bottom of the water and the river, are boulders and rocks. But you need to look and see where you’re trying to go, so that was the first thing. And so I wouldn’t do that. I’d say, “Well I’m going to try to get over there.”

The second tip was take one step at a time. Again, seems basic but the tendency is to just start walking like you would on a sidewalk or if you’re wading through again the children’s pool. But the fact of the matter is, you don’t know what your footing is and if you don’t take the time to take it one step at a time, you might slip and fall and not only lose all your spearfishing gear but may even lose your life.

The 3rd tip that he gave was pay attention to the current. The tendency again is to just wade in there and assume where the water is moving, but the current is a huge thing. And the faster it’s moving, obviously, the more power it has and the more it has to knock you off your feet. It makes a difference on how you fish. So pay attention to the current.

The fourth tip is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Now for guys like me, that’s a tough one. In general, it’s hard for me to ask for help. In here, I am in this macho land of South America – Patagonia. I’m learning how to fly fish, I’m wading in the water and I realize that I need help. And so the guide was right there with me and he handed me his hand and he said here, “Let me help you”. And my first inclination, was, no I don’t need anyone to help me. And he stopped me and he says, “Believe me, don’t be afraid to ask for help”. And I was glad, because even though I had learned those steps in my head, when I started to do it, I was off-balance. And I was glad he was there. 

The 5th tip, which comes in very handy, is that if you do fall, which you do occasionally, is don’t panic. Which is easier said than done when you’re lying on your back and you’re floating down the river. But one of the basic tools for wading in the water is having what they call, full waders. The wader comes all the way up to your chest to make sure that you have that secure. Because when you fall, if you don’t have that secure, you actually can die. Because the water can fill up your waders and you’ll be taken down the river.

So now, what’s the importance of these five tips?

Well if we look at our daily life or your business life or our family life or whatever working organization you’re in, it’s a lot like wading in the water. There is a river and there’s stuff going on all the time. When we head into the day, when we head into our career, when we head into a business plan, the same things apply.

The first thing is where are you going? Where are you trying to get to?  Ask the question, what is my outcome? Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says, start with the end in mind. This is an example. Ask the question, “What am I trying to accomplish?”

So the second step that is very simple in concept, but it’s hard to execute and that is take one step at a time. You ever notice that when you’re getting ready to go someplace that you think you know you’re going, you don’t think about one step at a time. You just take off. In this context you need to make sure that your executing each step. So if it’s a business plan or something that you’re planning on with your organization, make sure that you’re doing the first step before you take the second step. Pretty easy, pretty basic.

The third step is to pay attention to the currents. In other words what’s going on in the culture? What’s going on in your business climate? What’s going on in your family? What’s going on in your life? These are currents. Most companies most organizations don’t pay attention to that. They move ahead and the leaders move ahead as if its all calm water, or all waters the same. Well that’s not true. And you know that if you’ve ever been in a river, but you also know it in general. So when it comes to making that wade in your water, make sure that you’re paying attention to it and then adjust accordingly.

The fourth step is to make sure or to don’t be afraid to ask for help. As I said, this is easier said than done. That one of the things we make mistakes at, and leaders make that mistake, is “I know how to do it” or you even come to the realization that you don’t know how to do it but you’re afraid you’re going to look stupid or you’re afraid that somebody else is going to walk all over it. Or maybe it is your own insecurities so you don’t say, you know, “I don’t know”.

Let me just tell you one of the most powerful phrases you can have as a leader is, “I don’t know”. What that does is it brings in people to help, so we’re here, let me help you. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. It could be from a friend or it could be from a colleague; it could be by just getting a book and reading about it, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And then the final one – which is crucial – is it often has to do with life or death. When someone falls, as I said in the water, and your waders fill up, you can drown and be swept away. What does that represent in our life? What is your core? What’s your core business practice? What’s the core of your life? If you’re not taking care of that, if you’re not clear about it, if you’re not protected around that, then when something comes, when calamity comes, when something shifts, you lose your balance. You can, you might die, your company might totally fail. You see it all the time in the business climate. Someone makes a mistake that they shouldn’t have made or they should have paid attention to and it takes the whole company down.

So, I encourage you to use these five steps as you navigate the waters, the rivers of your life. Maybe you’re afraid to walk into them, maybe you found that you’re hesitant as a leader or you’re not being decisive or you’re afraid to make a mistake, you’re afraid to fall. I encourage you to take a look at these five steps and put them into practice. I think you’ll find it’ll change your organization and it’ll give you more strength and more clarity about leading the team that is asking you to lead.

So if you want to learn more about being on a path to a better leader, I encourage you to contact me at Meltonleadership.org.