Don’t Go In The Water…

Great leaders create conditions, conditions where risk is not only allowed, it is encouraged.  They not only have the ability to lure us away from the safety of the shore, they embolden us to swim out to unknown and unchartered waters.

Well over thirty years ago Steven Spielberg turned the summer beach going experience into place of fear and panic.  His epic summer blockbuster Jaws gave trepidation to our steps as we slowly waded out into those murky ocean waters.  We no longer felt entirely safe to dive right in at our favorite swimming spot.  He infused the experience with a certain bit of anxiety, dread and fear, afraid of what may be lurking in the depths below.

Afraid to venture out into the water…

And scared we were.  For those who have seen Jaws, the notion of a giant man-eater lurking below is never far from our imagination as we dive in to those frothy waves.  Even when we know the statistics stand in stark contrast to the odds.

According to Wikipedia, “a person’s chance of getting attacked by a shark in the United States is 1 in 11.5 million, and a person’s chance of getting killed by a shark is less than 1 in 264.1 million.  Alone in New York people are bitten 10 times more each year by other people than worldwide by sharks.”

But scared we are…

And it is this fear, this fear of the unknown that we as leaders can acknowledge and look to understand as we work to build capacity, to help our organizations and those within grow, embrace change and take risks.

Let’s consider a few famous quotes from Peter Benchley’s bestseller Jaws and how we can use these ideas to fuel growth, change and risk-taking in our organizations and our leadership.

“Don’t go in the water.”  Unfortunately, many people and organizations never venture away from the safety of the shore.  They remain enamored in status quo, scared of what awaits them out in those murky depths.  And for that reason, they never get in the water, they never give themselves a chance to embrace change or take risks.  They never explore any possibilities and opportunities. They are to wrapped up in what may be waiting for them to take that chance.  Which is why leaders have to make it safe to go out in the water, to swim away from the safety of the shore.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.”  When we choose to embrace change and take risks, things do not always work out as planned.  Sometimes those chances, those risks we take do not end positively and we experience failure.  When that occurs, we can become scared of moving past what we know and we can become risk averse.  We avoid taking chances because we know that failure is waiting out there for us, again.  As leaders, we have to create an environment where people can learn from their mistakes, where it can be safe to go back into the water.

“You yell shark and we have a panic on our hands.”  As leaders, it is important that we listen to our people and allow them to lead us, as much as we lead them.  Creating an environment where those in the organization have a voice, creates a collaborative environment that supports the ongoing success of the organization.  When leaders refrain from hearing the advice of those they lead, they make themselves an island within the organization.  Often leading to decisions that are neither wise nor in the best interest of the organization and those within.  Leading is not about a bottom-line, it is about protecting the organization and all within.  It is about creating a safe, healthy environment and culture.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  Many organizations and leaders never get off the shore because they spend all of their time making sure they are ready.  They spend all of their time and resources trying to create a “bigger boat“.  They only problem is that they never believe that they have a boat big enough to tackle the problems that they imagine they will be facing, and for that reason they never set sail.  They never get off the shore.  Fear of the unknown, of what they may face leads to continual inaction.  As a leader, sometimes you have to set sail, to create action, to sail out towards those unknown problems, and then determine if a “bigger boat” is really needed, or necessary.

“I’ll never put on a life jacket again.”  Change is a natural occurrence of life.  We can’t avoid it no matter how we try.  How we face that change will determine our path in life.  As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Sometimes we have to choose to take off our life jacket.  To loose those restraints that bind us.  We have to choose to take risks if we are ever to achieve our dreams.  We have to choose to let go of the shore and swim out to those unknown and unchartered waters.  Leaders have to help their people and their organizations to see those possibilities, over the possibles.

Sometimes as leaders we have to be more like the shark, we have to be a bit more like Jaws

“There’s nothing in the sea this fish would fear.  Other fish run from bigger things.  That’s their instinct.  But this fish doesn’t run from anything.  He doesn’t fear.”  -Peter Benchley


1 thought on “Don’t Go In The Water…

  1. If leaders REALLY want to create those conditions, they have to go into the water first. Telling others to jump in while you watch from the safety of land does not create a culture of risk-taking, only a “you-first” organization.

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