3 Ways Surfing Will Make You A Better Leader

Leadership Surfing

When I think of summer, I think of water. Swimming, splashing, boating, floating, skiing, diving, surfing—if it involves water, count me in.

Earlier this summer I was bodysurfing with my family when I was struck by the similarities between great surfers and great leaders. I began to consider how the fundamentals of surfing—what successful surfers do to catch and ride waves—can be applied to leading people as well.

I came up with three things successful surfers and leaders do consistently well:

1. Get in position. Before surfers can do any of the fun stuff, they have to get in the water, paddle out into the ocean, and sit up on their board. Likewise, to lead, you need to position yourself well. And I don’t mean “get promoted.” Like the surfer sitting on her board watching the approaching waves, you have to build relationships, stay informed, and be ready take advantage of developing situations.

2. Choose the right wave. Not all waves are created equal. Some are too small, others too big. You’re looking for the Goldilocks wave—the one that’s just right. The same is true as a leader; pick your battles wisely. What will you choose to spend your time and energy on? Which opportunities are the most important or will have the greatest potential impact on your task or team?

3. Time it just right. After picking the perfect wave, an expert surfer catches it just before it breaks. Too early and it crashes down on top of him. Too late and he’s stuck riding the backside. The same is true for a leader; every decision has its time—too early and you shut down possibilities, too late and opportunities pass you by. Great surfers and leaders wait patiently then execute quickly.

Perhaps the biggest similarity between surfing and leading is that you can’t learn either of them by reading a book (or a blog, for that matter). Reading and studying can help you prepare, but to grow, you have to get out there and practice—a lot.

You have to get tossed in the surf quite a bit before you develop the ability to sense the right position, the best opportunity, the perfect timing. But when all three of those come together, it’s so rewarding—it makes all the wipe outs worth it!

Which of these three fundamentals do you struggle with the most? What else could surfing teach us about leading?


2 thoughts on “3 Ways Surfing Will Make You A Better Leader”

  1. I think I struggle most with the third step.  I’m a planner and I do what I can to prepare for the right opportunity, but I sometimes struggle to make the leap to something new.

    Great analogy!

    1. Thanks Jon. One of the things that helps me leap at opportunities: When I look back at my life and catalogue my regrets, they are almost exclusively things that I didn’t do—as opposed to things that I tried and screwed up.

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