5 Ways Fishing Can Make You a Better Leader (It’s However Literal You Want it to Be)

The day-to-day responsibilities of a leader can range from recruitment to planning, to about a million other things. Especially if you are new, it is really easy for stress to take over and let your work get away from you. If you aren’t new, some behaviors and habits can throw you into a spiral, like you are living paycheck to paycheck trading your sanity, and reduced willpower for progress.

I would like to propose that we add a bit of zen into our management styles. I think that a simple fishing trip can force us to identify behaviors that might be reducing velocity or lowering the scope of our vision.

Also, I want to thank the folks at StartupLandia. I learned a lot of these good habits from them, and they have been infinitely helpful in shaping my own work and the products of the companies that choose to hire them.

Let’s talk about 5 Ways that Fishing Can Make You a Better leader!

Fishing forces you to identify behavior and make changes

Let’s set up an example here. Suddenly, you decide that you are going to go on a 5-day fishing trip, bringing your equipment and just enough food to survive. You are certain that you can catch what you need to eat, so you decide to pack lite.

The halfway point of day one hits.

Your camp is set up and you decide it’s time to cast out your line. The river is wide, and the sun is shining. After a few hours pass without so much as a bite, you start to wonder if you have made a mistake. Your pride kicks in and you decide to stay. Surely, perseverance will prevail and you will hook something. You finally get a bite. It is a struggle, so it must be a big one. You are eating well tonight, you think. With a splash, a fish is launched out of the water. It’s about the size of your thumb, and your stomach sinks. Turns out, when you are hungry and exhausted from the heat, even reeling in a small fish is a big task.

The day is over, so you go back to camp and eat a small sandwich. You lost the battle, but you will not lose the war. It’s time to strategize.

As a leader, knowing when and whether to make big or small changes is crucial

The nuclear option blips through your subconscious. “Go home, this isn’t going to work…” Your inner voice says. What else is there to do?

If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, a variety of options present themselves. The smaller ones could include changing the way you cast your line or the pace at which you reel in. A bigger one could be moving to a different river altogether, not considering the nuclear option above.

Unfortunately, the choice you make here is purely intuition-based. Most often, the only person that can figure out why things aren’t working is you, as you know all the variables of your situation. You must make this decision though. Whether to try at the same spot with the same technique or try the shady spot just down the river.

You know you need to eat something more than a sandwich, so something has to change.

Knowing your tools and accepting loss

Day 2 starts with your stomach growling.

As a leader, you have a bunch of tools at your disposal. Whether this is financial plans, weekly goals, or teams that you trust. Knowing what they are capable of, and knowing how much you can push them before the line breaks is invaluable.

I want to be clear on a point that I will talk about in-depth in another blog post. The individuals on your team are not tools for you to use. In this metaphor, they are the river. You can navigate them, and do things that might improve flow, but stopping them altogether will likely end in you losing them.

When you set out on your fishing trip, you packed a tackle box with a bunch of seemingly useful tools. Some new hooks, maybe that fancy fishing line that cost 200% more than normal (but promised to make you a professional fisher), and some tools you inherited a while ago that have seen better days.

You decide to string up your pole with this new fishing line and a very flashy lure. Then, you cast it into the rough, sure it will provide your dinner. Within minutes, it gets snagged on a rock below the murky water. You gently pull it in different directions, trying to free it from the depths. It won’t budge. With a bit more force, you pull your rod towards your body and you feel a lazy “POP.” The line snapped. The fancy tools that promised so much have failed and left a spot open in the top of your tackle box.

Seeing this as a loss can only get you so far. The empty spot in your tackle box reminds you of that, so you decide to move something from the bottom shelf into it. A cheap rubber lure. It might not promise much, but you have fished with it a thousand times. You know how hard you can pull it to keep it below the surface, but out of the rocks. You cast out one last time before nightfall. You finally feel a real tug. You pull with just enough force to set the hook, and you reel in your dinner. You aren’t sure why the sudden success hit. It could be because the temperature was dropping, or the shade was growing larger. You put those thoughts on hold as you walk back to your camp to finally eat real food.

This isn’t to say that some fancy new tool cannot solve your problems, but learning them, and knowing their behavior is worth far more than a price tag. If it’s a tool that you know, you have a higher chance of utilizing it, especially if you are making mindful methodical changes as we spoke about in the previous section.

This is analogous to a recent experience I had with a marketing company that promised me they could double the traffic to our site. The price tag was ghastly, but the promise was great. Surely enough, when they started, traffic ticked up a bit. It didn’t last though and traffic fell below its previous normal after a few months. We were out time and money. The problem wasn’t just overpromising and under-delivering from the marketing company. We didn’t understand the tools and processes that were behind them. We didn’t even have a full understanding of how users or crawlers were using our site. How could we expect to properly use this tool when everything driving it was novel as well?

Handling consequences from your choices

Day 3 starts with excitement and motivation.

As we talked about above, when you are out on the riverbank, no one can tell you why you aren’t doing well. What I mean when I say that, is that regardless of the input you are given, the choice ultimately falls on you. Whether you are trying a new marketing strategy or building out a new feature, it is important to look objectively at the result. Remember to be introspective, accepting the short-term failure and landing on your feet. Take a breath, look at any data you can find, and start planning your next move.

When possible, praise those around you for success. The fishing analogy kind of breaks here, but regardless of how painful it is, accepting responsibility for failure and passing out praise for success is a sure-fire way to create trust and a bond with your team.

Knowing when to let go

Day 4 your hope is renewed.

You have made your way back to the river with all the tools you need. Your fishing pole is rigged up with some line and a lure you trust. You cast out, trying to keep in mind the changes you have been pondering from the days before. You slowly reel in, being careful to avoid places where you have experienced snags in the past. Low and behold, you get a bite. The strongest bite you have had since you got here. You tug and the battle begins. You try to reel in, but the fish is fighting back. Darting back and forth from each edge of the river. The harder you pull, the more rapid its twists and turns get. Eventually, it manages to pull itself towards some low-hanging branches in the river. It has lost some of its speed, but you have lost the ability to reel it in. The line has tangled itself in a set of branches.

You know that pulling too hard is likely to break the line, so you let some extra line loose hoping that it will help to break free from the binding. Unfortunately, the fish travels further into the weeds. If you continue to pull, you could snap the line and tangle the fish, dooming it to be stuck out of reach. You have no choice but to cut the line and let the fish be free.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but I want to compare this to fighting for and eventually letting go of one of your workers. It is inevitable, and if you haven’t experienced it before, it is incredibly painful for both sides. It is important to understand the pain that will be caused by letting a person go, and also to understand the pain that can be caused by keeping them until the line snaps. You will have to do it at some point, and it is often a better option to make sure that you do whatever you can to help them succeed after they leave.

You end the day having caught a few fish. More than enough to eat, and you head back.

Enjoying the journey makes success that much better

Day 5 peace at last

You wake up to eat some fish that you cooked the night before. As you sit there, you remember the tools you replaced, the fish you lost, and the things you learned. You might have been hungry at a few points, but that hunger made the meals you had all the more satisfying.

As you pack up and prepare to go home, you catch yourself planning the next fishing trip. You should probably catch up on some work though. There are a lot of changes to make.

If you liked this article, let me know with some claps, or with a comment. Sharing this article helps a ton, and lets us know that we should keep making content like this!

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Jeremy Stover

Jeremy Stover

10 Year Software Engineer turned Engineering Manager/Developer Advocate! I love to cook and make games. Lets chat about design and software!

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