The diver entered the cage and lowered into the choppy ocean. He adjusted the camera on its mount, checked his air flow, and then let the boat above know that he was set and ready to film.
Then a 20 foot Great White Shark swam at the cage, gripped it with its powerful jaws, and put two tons of weight behind the force of its attack.
It was heart stopping and it wasn’t even me in that cage. But as the battle-scarred shark relented and others swam in to inspect this visitor into their world, it occurred to me. There are some very serious leadership lessons to be learned here. Lessons from the Sharks and from those who study and protect them.
Lessons we can only learn during Shark Week.
As I watched the spectacle last week I was able to spot several leadership qualities we should all value. Thanks to The Discovery Channel for this annual glimpse into the world of sharks.
The reason Leadership is so very important to guest service is that without it you’ll be a team of one. Certainly you can do great things as an individual contributor, but nothing compared to what you can do if you cultivate a team that puts the customer at the center of everything. Being a leader gives you reach; it gives you the legs to impact more than you ever could alone; it gives you the power to serve guests in new and innovative ways that will delight and inspire.
Leadership Strength Matters. When you watch any special on sharks – particularly Great White Sharks – you can always see that many of the sharks sport injuries. They range from minor to major injuries and although some are from people, many seem to be from their fellow sharks. Many come from territorial disputes that the sharks have amongst themselves, particularly when a smaller shark may be trying to move up in the hierarchy before having attained the appropriate size or seniority in the caste system. Sound familiar? I can remember taking on Leadership challenges and trying to lead during situations for which I was ill prepared. I can remember the wounds of failure I was subjected to when I realized I was out of my league. I think that lesson is a good one for Leaders who are rushing their progress – sometimes you need patience and to develop yourself before you take on added responsibility. John Maxwell speaks to this in his Five Levels of Leadership: Leaders have a difficult time leading those who are stronger leaders than themselves. This is usually because strong leaders are not in the habit of following weaker leaders for very long. So the mission is to develop yourself and know where you stand. Sharks don’t give up when they are bested. They heal, grow, and mature – then they try again. You must do the same.
You Have to Depend on Your Team. This one is not so much about the sharks themselves, but rather those who seek them out and study them. Shark Week is full of teams of scientists and researchers who want to learn more about these animals and share their world with viewers. But it is not a safe endeavor – even though it is a television show they are in the water with real live animals with real live teeth. Safety has to be the number one concern of these folks and that safety depends on trust. It depends on each person taking up their role and everyone trusting one another to do the right things. There is a hyper level of accountability here because any cage that doesn’t lock, airflow that fails, or missed safety responsibilities could result in injury or death. Most of us don’t deal in absolutes like life and death during our work day, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned. The mission that teams share is the glue that must be emphasized by leaders. There is virtue in having a vision that unites and clarifies – and it is the duty of every Leader to be sure that the team clearly understands and takes pride in that mission. Baking it into the DNA of your team is a key move to drive success, and it can help you move the needle when it comes to delivering fantastic customer service.
Be Smarter to be Bolder. It always gives me pause when I hear the shark experts discussing how careful the Great White Sharks are when they attack prey. In fact, their eyes, which are so important to their lives, roll back in their head when feeding to protect them from thrashing prey. These powerful animals are sure to keep their most valuable assets safe. Teeth, which grow back quickly, can snap off often. It is also not uncommon for the largest of these animals to be the ones that are least visible. They tend to hang out in deeper water while the smaller, younger sharks swim up to investigate divers and such in the water. The lesson here is pretty clear: there is nothing wrong with being cautious regarding the unknown. There is no sin in double checking and making sure that you have done due diligence before acting. But the flip side is to move as powerfully as a shark leaping from the water when you have made your decision. Don’t get paralyzed with analysis, but don’t see analysis as a weakness either. Do your homework, make your decision, then go BOLDLY. There is something to be said for not jumping blindly, but at times you’ll have to make your best decision based on the best knowledge you have. When its time to move, do so decisively and with conviction.
I think real life acts of Leadership are always the most compelling. As I watch the stars of Shark Week – those with gills and those without – I am struck by the examples of leadership I see. Keep an eye out for acts of Leadership you can learn from in your everyday life. Whether you are at work, at the mall, or with your family. When you see a well-functioning team, look to the leadership and see if there are nuggets you can glean. You certainly can’t adopt someone’s style verbatim, but I believe we all have our own style – which has been cobbled together as a quilt of our experiences. It is the fabric of those who have led us, our upbringing, and observations from our lives.
Never quit learning. Never stop trying to improve. Never turn down the volume on your leadership potential. That will help you lead your team into the waters of great customer service.