S-L-O-W-I-N-G D-O-W-N TO THE SPEED OF LIFE Lessons on Leadership and Life from a Fly Fisherman
Everything moves in rhythm. Atomic particles, waves of electrons, molecules in wood, rocks, and trees, amoebas, mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, the earth, the moon, the sun, and stars… and we ourselves.
In a world alive with a myriad of rhythms, “entrainment” is the process by which these rhythms synchronize. Rhythmic entrainment is one of the great organizing principles of the world, as inescapable as gravity. And in the fast-paced era of technology, immediate gratification, and on-demand news and entertainment, the heart yearns to find its own rhythm away from the demands of consumption and pressures of the world. As the percussionist Tony Vacca once said, “If you can’t find your rhythm, you can’t find your soul.”
This summer, I experienced finding my own rhythm. I spent a day on the Bow River with Chas Waitt, an inspiring, caring, and human leader on our team, and Dana Lattery, a gifted fly-fishing guide (https://www.flyfishingbowriver.com). As a fly-fishing guide, Dana doesn’t just guide you to the fish. He guides you to yourself. The day wasn’t as much about fly fishing as it was about living connected to my heart, to each other, and to what truly matters.
And it was also a course in leadership. With the tag line, “Love People; Catch Fish,” love and service were integral principles in everything that went down: from the grace in the coffee shop to start the day, to the support, patience, and encouragement in learning to cast and untangling line, to his commitment to stewardship of the river, to how the fish were carefully handled before they were released, and to how I was treated in every interaction.
Here are a few of the lessons on leadership and life from spending a day on the river with Dana and Chas:
1. Leadership, like fly-fishing, requires a relaxed presence of mind. Fly fishing is an extremely complex process that takes time and experience. You don’t have to be perfect, but you miss opportunities if you aren’t present. You must, for example, wait and watch for any sign of movement in the water, mending when needed, and make sure the fishing line drifts naturally and effortlessly. This is the mastery behind guiding that enables Dana to make it look easy. But he’s paid attention for years so he can take his students to the fish with such accuracy it truly seems like magic.
2. You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. No matter how many fish you catch, they all go back into the river. No matter what you accumulate, accomplish, or achieve in life, it all goes back into the river of life when it’s over. All that ever truly counts in life is the experience you have, the person you become, and the difference you make along the way. Life is lived in the present.
3. You won’t find ego in authentic leadership. Kindness crowds out arrogance. A genuine interest in others and what they care about replaces making yourself look good. Your self-confidence allows others to grow and flourish in an atmosphere of support because you don’t need the approval of others to evaluate yourself or make yourself look better than you are. Even the masters know they aren’t the smartest person on the boat.
4. Humanity is more important than the illusion of perfection. You don’t have to be perfect or create an appearance of flawlessness to be called a leader. Being human, creating a safe place to make mistakes and learn and grow and be inspired together, is some of what it takes to be a leader.
5. It’s all about showing up. None of this matters if you don’t show up. Accountability isn’t just about being able to be counted on when it’s easy. It’s about being there in the grind. It’s about embracing the suck. Showing up not only earns self-respect. Showing up inspires the respect and love of everyone around you.
6. Service is at the core. Servant leadership is a timeless approach that emphasises your priority as a leader: to attend to the people in your care. You won’t win in the marketplace until you win in the workplace. Take care of your people so they will take care of their people.
7. Fly-fishing is a call to simplicity that makes leadership and life better. The art of being authentic is really the art of being, of knowing and living in harmony with ourselves, connecting with the highest possibilities of our nature. And being connected with our nature requires being connected with nature. This requires stopping, disconnecting from the distractions and demands, and being present to the world around you. The good life and good work require good leisure: not just time that we are not on the job, but that is free from pressing expectations. Simple living doesn’t necessarily mean a quiet life. It can be filled with challenges and excitement. But it is important to take time to go slowly and to do things at the pace they are meant to be experienced – such as when eating a meal, talking with a colleague, returning an email, telling a story to a child, or walking the dog.
Discovering your authentic leadership concerns not the what and how but the who: who we are and the source from which we operate, both individually and collectively. We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in the zeal to get things done we can forget our humanity and the simple art of living. Let us make a resolve that we will begin to relax and saunter and be present, and take time to meditate and watch the sun go down behind the hill. Let us be good to ourselves. Let us s-l-o-w d-o-w-n to the speed of life.