Lessons from the Deep End: How Scuba Diving Offers Inspiration for Leadership and Coaching
The opportunity to help others reach their potential and grow as leaders, so they can effectively support themselves and their teams, is something many leaders and coaches are passionate about. That being said, the work of a leader and a coach isn’t always easy, and learning how to navigate the highs and lows is a life-long endeavor. One of my favorite places to find inspiration and lessons relevant to my work as a coach and leader is in the ocean – specifically when I’m scuba diving. Here are three take-aways from my last scuba trip; I offer these as an invitations for reflection to coaches and leaders who coach their teams.
Preparation is Essential
Before jumping into the deep waters, you need to properly check your equipment and your mental state of mind. Before heading out on the boat for my next dive, I make sure all of my gear is accounted for and ready-to-go – no last-minute rushing around trying to find my fins, mask or the proper weights once we’re already out on the water. I get ready and put my gear on with plenty of time for a physical and mental safety check. I want to be calm, confident and ready to move when the signal is given that it is time to go in.
On our most recent trip the boat was overcrowded, there was not enough space to comfortably put on the gear and there was so much high energy swirling around that I got distracted. I forgot to clip in my camera and almost lost it when jumping off the boat. The hectic above water impacted the first part of my experience under water and it took me a little while to get into my scuba zen of “aware relaxation”. On the next tour with the same setup, I looked for a seat at the edge of the bench to move away from the most crowded area so I had more maneuvering room and was less rushed. This dive was peaceful and enjoyable.
The same principles apply when preparing for coaching sessions or leadership conversations – I make sure all the necessary information is assembled beforehand, I give myself time to collect my thoughts and focus on what is ahead. I might review my notes. I mentally and emotionally connect with my client or team with appreciation and care before actually meeting them. I want to be prepared for anything and look forward to working with the familiar yet unknown and I am open for a full sensory experience.
Setting Intentions and Mapping out Possibilities and Potential
Most scuba divers set intentions or make a dive plan before they dive so they stay focused on what they want to get out of their experience while exploring what a dive site has to offer in the allotted time with the available equipment. Before each dive, new dive partners review how they will communicate with each other and they revisit the shared meaning of signals: How will you let me know that you see something that I might not be seeing? How will we know if there is a problem and the dive partner needs extra support? Is my partner ready to attempt swim throughs or will we stay on top of the reef? Is there a particular skill we want to practice?
The dive begins above water by agreeing on how we want to dive together and what this dive will be about. Will we stay on the wreck or will we drift dive along a wall? Will we try to slow down and look for the small, intriguing things or will we try to visit landmarks because we want to observe particular wildlife? If we try to do too much in one dive, we might miss something beautiful and feel exhausted at the end.
When divers get excited, agitated or work hard to swim against a current, air consumption will increase and divers may need to modify a dive plan accordingly. Frequently checking in with my partner underwater ensures that we stay connected and that we are both fit and able to continue the dive. Similarly, responsible coaches frequently check in with their clients and leaders with their team whether they feel on track, whether they are ready to try something new, whether they are ready to move on or if they want to linger at a particular spot because there is more to discover.
Move with Respect and Care
When underwater, divers must move and explore with respect and care for the environment and in an alert state. Currents may change, you may have surprise encounters with wildlife, and you or your dive partner’s equipment may have issues – anything can happen under water at any time. It is important to pay attention to the surroundings and always take care of yourself and stay close to your dive partner.
I apply the same principles when navigating potentially challenging territory with my clients. I pay close attention to shifts of perspective and energy, I check in in a respectful manner and I ensure that they feel safe and supported during deep dive conversations. Where do we want to go together next? How much challenge can the client safely handle at this moment? How far and how deep can we go in this session to leave time for a safety or decompression stop at the end?
When working together, it’s important for both parties involved to remain curious and open-minded as they explore their options. We both need to trust each other’s judgment while feeling supported by one another throughout the process. Diving and coaching require committed partnering to get the most out of the experience in a safe and enjoyable manner.
Scuba diving has not only been an enjoyable pastime of mine over the years but has also served as an incredible teacher outside of its own realm – it teaches me essential lessons related directly back into my work as a coach and as a leader. From learning how important preparation really is before getting started, setting intentions as well as co-creating actionable plans, staying respectful yet curious and caring in foreign waters (or situations), taking care of my partners – these are all key components in successfully achieving desired outcomes no matter if you’re under or above water!
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