Posts in July

Learning from the close encounter with an impressive tiger shark – five critical aspects of leadership

July 20th, 2016   •   leadership, leadership development, role modeling   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

Learning from the close encounter with an impressive tiger shark – five critical aspects of leadership


Inspiring leadership examples are all around us. This week I had the chance to observe leadership in the face of danger and risk in a slightly unusual setting – the close encounter with a 4,8 meter long tiger shark at 25 meters’ depth off the island of Beqa, in Fiji.


The encounter was exhilarating. On earlier dives during the preceding week, we had observed a number of sharks of different species, including white-tips, nurse sharks and bull sharks. We were certainly alert – and the adrenalin was flowing freely – when a group of six bull sharks came to within five meters of us. Sharks normally don’t attack humans, of course, but bull sharks are certainly capable of severing a limb, and there have been a number of fatalities.


On this particular dive, the lone tiger shark came in while we were descending, and continued to circle us for 20 minutes. We descended to the bottom and placed ourselves with our backs to a coral wall in order to have some sense of where the shark was coming from. It seemed intensely inquisitive. I am no expert in shark psychology – and I was curious about the shark’s intent. Was it just inquisitive or did it also feel threatened? Or hungry? Might it attack? It certainly seemed useful to stay alert. Stefano, the marine biologist who led this dive, had recommended that we always keep eye contact with the shark. It was daunting to look into the eyes of this agile, elegant animal as it approached … especially at the point when it came straight at me and brushed past me within easy touching distance. I had to crouch on the bottom to avoid the shark bumping into me. This is not common shark behavior. It felt a bit too intimate and after just over 20 minutes, we surfaced. We had collected a truly memorable experience and the saying “quit while you’re ahead” seemed to apply.


So … that was fun. But there is a deeper leadership lesson here. What were the actions that Stefano performed that helped ensure a successful dive? There was real risk involved here. How did he orchestrate the behavior of a group of seven people that he has just met – some of whom had not encountered a shark before and who might freak out? As I reflect on the experience, five critical aspects stand out:


1: Prepare
2: Cast vision

3: Script the critical moves
4: Be supportive
5: Move fast


Stefano had spent more than a decade in preparation: getting his formal education in marine biology and performing over a thousand dives in diverse conditions. In a relaxed manner, he shared this preparation so that the entire group rapidly gained confidence in his capabilities. Credibility always makes it easier to lead.


Cast vision
During the dive briefing, Stefano prepared us thoroughly. He spoke openly about the dangers and the risks, but he also shared why he respects and admires the sharks and why it might be meaningful to seek a close encounter with them. His love of what he is doing and his passion for sharks were contagious.


Script the critical moves
Beyond casting vision, Stefano gave specific, detailed instructions. “Keep eye contact with the sharks. Don’t touch them. Check your air frequently, as air consumption can rise markedly when you are under stress. Stay close together to avoid having the shark swim between two divers. Let me know if you want to abort your dive, and we will get you to the surface again”. These specific instructions helped focus our attention so that there was not too much idle mental capacity to spend on the question of what might go wrong.


Be supportive
Stefano led from the front. When the tiger shark got a bit too friendly, he intervened and pushed the shark away. It was clear that Stefano was prepared to accept personal risk if this was required to keep his team safe. His more exposed position made the rest of us trust that we were (probably) OK.


Move fast
By turning in preparations into a well-orchestrated drill, Stefano left little time for doubt and speculation. As soon as our boat was in position, he asked us to move fast. Don gear. Gather in the water at the surface. Descend together to maximal depth as rapidly as equalization would permit. This left little time for doubt, speculation, and second thoughts about seeking this encounter. The well-rehearsed drill focused our attention and strengthened our confidence that Stefano knew exactly what he was going.


Inspiring leadership examples are all around us. These five aspects are clearly applicable to other challenging situations that require clear leadership – be they personal or organizational. I’ll be inspired by this experience for a long time.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

Humility in learning – becoming a kitesurfer

July 13th, 2016   •   humility, learning styles, teaching adults   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

Humility in learning – becoming a kitesurfer


I firmly believe that in order to engage credibly in any activity like teaching, coaching, counseling or consulting it is valuable for us to engage symmetrically.


To serve powerfully as teachers, we should engage deeply as learners.


To serve as credible coaches, we should regularly receive coaching.


To serve as trusted counselors, we should from time to time seek counseling.


To serve as consultants with impact, it is valuable for us also to retain consultants that guide us.


We benefit from seeing situations from multiple perspectives. Regularly filling these different roles lets us consider issues and opportunities from several angles – thereby giving us deeper insight and equipping us to serve more meaningfully. Alan Kay says: “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” On top of providing additional IQ points, I believe that a change in perspective also strengthens our empathy.


This year I engaged as a learner in a new way: I committed to learning kitesurfing. I believed that I was reasonably well prepared: I am fit, I am an able windsurfer, I have kitesurfed on snow and I have had fun wakeboarding. So I thought kitesurfing on water would be pretty straight forward. Wrong! The volume of seawater I swallowed on my first day of learning testifies to my error in judging the magnitude of the challenge. I was intensely frustrated. I was confused. I felt very small and humble. Swallowing seawater over any extended period is not fun. On my second morning, though, I progressed. I was still dragging around in the water, but I swallowed less of it. Some of the principles started to sink in. On my second afternoon, I got onto the board and I was riding. It was a thrilling experience. Skimming along the water at great speed and with little effort was exhilarating. The humiliation along the way was worth it.


As I reflected on my learning journey, it struck me that many of my struggles came from not having the right mental model.


My vision was clear and I was strongly motivated. I would faithfully seek to perform each action that my instructor gave me. I would copy those who had come further than I had. I was receiving all the training I could absorb. Yet, progress was slow in the beginning. My mental model of what kitesurfing involved was simply inadequate.


It is challenging to convey to someone else a rich, integrated mental model. It is easy to teach tips and tricks, but they often do not help a lot. They are not irrelevant, but they only go so far. Sharing a mental model, on the other hand, my seem a poor investment – it is not immediately “actionable”. But it is often required in order to build any complex (and therefore interesting) capability. It is what I needed.


My recent experience as a learner in a new area strengthened my awareness. I will focus (even more) on helping learners who work with me build a good mental model early on.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

The awesome power of role modeling

July 10th, 2016   •   inspiration, leadership, role model   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

The awesome power of role modeling


Meet Esita. She is a born-and-bred Fijian who works as the manager of a resort, on the island of Taveuni, in her home country. Together with her staff of 14, she creates amazing experiences for her guests. The kindness, the discretion, the attention to detail and the professionalism of the staff would put most 5-start establishments to shame. I was struck by the consistency of their superior service and I was curious about how Esita had built such an esprit-de-corps, such dedication, such service orientation.


One early morning I struck up a conversation with her in my quest to understand. Esita readily shared the three principles she uses when she recruits and manages her staff. They are deceptively simple:


1: Don’t steal


2: Be candid and raise issues


3: Listen to my guidance.


Those seem like good principles, but I doubt if Esita will ever achieve success writing a management book based on these three principles. (I did not ask permission so share them. Anyone is free to adopt them). It is clearly not here the secret to success lies – unless it is in a very refined reading of the principles.


I pressed Esita: “There’s got to be more”. What is the secret, Esita? Through our exchange, it became clear that Esita’s key tool is role modeling. Through her own behavior, she conveys vision, she inspires and she builds skills.


I never saw a vision statement or a mission statement while I visited the resort. I never saw a poster articulating “our core values”. I just observed Esita’s gentle, quiet demeanor and enjoyed the rejuvenating atmosphere of the place.


Esita will never write that book. But most of us can learn from her example.


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.

Learning everywhere

July 7th, 2016   •   awareness raising, learning styles   •   no comments   

By Tor Mesoy

Learning everywhere


I am committed to lifelong learning. I am committed to learning from people I admire and respect. I am committed also to learn from people I struggle to understand. I am committed to deepen my learning from familiar environments and I am committed to learn in new environments.


Last Sunday I had the opportunity learn in a new environment. In village of 300 inhabitants on the island of Nacula, at the northern end of the Yasawas, in Fiji, I made a new acquaintance: Saimone – the headmaster of the local high school. I met him in the local church and I asked him: “What gives you the greatest fulfillment as a leader in your school and in your local community?” Saimone radiated as he shared: “My greatest fulfillment comes from seeing my students learn, grow and achieve good results. I know they are headed for university and that they are the future of our country.” I was struck my his passion and commitment – he clearly lives for something greater than himself, and his sense of purpose lies in serving others.


I asked Saimone: “What is the greatest challenge of teaching in your school?”. Again his answer came quickly: “It is hard. The only electricity we have comes from a generator – we normally run it from 6PM until 10PM. But sometimes we do not have fuel for the generator. Sometimes we do not have motor oil. Also, we have very limited access to fresh water. We lack so many basic amenities. As a result, the population in our village is declining. People leave for the urban areas where life is simpler. But I am committed to staying.” I felt humbled. Many of the challenges I face seem like luxury problems in comparison.


Thank you, Saimone, for inspiring me and for giving me a fresh perspective!


Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.