What’s Fly Fishing Got to Do With It?

SONY DSCIn my experience, people either really enjoy fly fishing, or consider it about as frustrating as solving a rubik’s cube, or think it is more boring than watching paint dry.  For me, there are few activities more rejuvenating.  There’s something about stepping into the cool rushing water of a beautiful river, grappling for footing, then spotting a small eddy behind a rock, hoping a prize rainbow trout is lurking in its shadow.  Then, I draw back my rod and begin the rhythmic dance of drawing a fish to my fly.  It’s in these moments, when lost waist deep in this beautiful creation, that I’m drawn away from the busyness of my world and into my own thoughts, hopes and aspirations.

You’re probably thinking, I thought this blog was about leadership.  So, what’s fly fishing got to do with it anyway?  Well, my wife and I have been back in Arkansas for about a year and have finally found time to go fly fishing again.  When I stepped in that cool water for the first time in too long I quickly recalled everything I loved about this activity.  And it’s not about catching fish.

When you go to my website you will see a few pictures scrolling across the page, one of which captures a beautiful fly fishing scene with the caption “Focus and Perspective”.    That picture is on the site for a reason.  Fly fishing not only requires both focus and perspective, but it offers opportunity for these things as well.  Fly fishing continually renews my perspective, challenges me to focus, and reminds me of the power of adventure and optimism.  These are a few of the characteristics that effective leaders are continually working to develop.

  1. Focus is especially essential when fly fishing for trout.  Trout have a gentle bite, and if you’re not watching carefully, opportunity will pass you by.   So when I am fishing I am fully focused on the objective.  I want to do the same as I approach other priorities in my life and work.  When I am with my clients or working on a project with them I want to be fully engaged in helping them achieve their objectives.  When I am with my family, I want to be fully present with them in the same way.   This is truly a challenge. There is always something that needs to be done.  But there is nothing like stepping away from the chaos to the quietness of the river to give me time to refocus on priorities in my life and work.  What are your priorities, both personal and professional? What aids you in connecting with and focusing on those priorities? My wife and I enjoy fly fishing together, as we do so many other hobbies and activities.  I believe this focus on shared recreation is one of the things that has enables us to sustain so many great years together.  And if we happen to catch a fish, well, that is just icing on the cake.
  2. Perspective.  In the midst of the summer heat, there are few better places to be than standing waist deep in the frigid water of a beautiful river.   But whether it’s in the midst of summer or during a light snowfall, this kind of environment is just a great place to slow down and put things into perspective.  Time passes slower in the river. There’s a welcome disconnect from the wild pace of the day to day. It is here that I can easily recall what and who is important.  I am reminded of the importance of my faith, the priority of my family and the privilege I have of serving my clients. What is it that helps you gain perspective
  3. Adventure and Optimism.  I have always loved trying new things and facing new challenges.  That characteristic realized itself early in my early twenties when my wife and I embarked on a 10 year adventure in British Columbia, Canada. It was there I tried my hand at building a start up organization, and other adventures, such things as scuba diving, snow skiing, elk hunting, moose hunting, and salmon fishing.  That sense of adventure has never left.  I continue to challenge myself to do better, and be better at everything I do, whether in business, service to my church and community, fitness, finances, or hobbies.  Fly fishing throws me back to thoughts of those who settled this land, who successfully faced challenges and obstacles every day just to survive.  What I love about those stories we tell is that those leaders never gave up.  It is that sense of adventure that causes me to keep getting up after mistakes or failures and helps me remain optimistic about the future.  Adventure and Optimism manifests itself in a number of ways.  For some it may be new challenges at work, engaging in new cultures, cooking new foods or reading authors who propose a world view contrary to yours.  How do you connect with your sense of adventure and optimism?

I have learned throughout my career as an executive coach that effective leaders find ways to stay focused and fully engaged on the right priorities, to keep things in perspective and to maintain a spirit of adventure and optimism that inspires others.

For me, fly fishing is simply a means to an end.  Each cast is a new adventure and the whole experience serves as a metaphor aiding me in responding to key leadership questions. What do you do to help you answer these questions?


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