The Art & Science of Leading

Leadership BLOG


Riding the Wave - A Leader's Lessons


Working with leaders of companies at different stages of growth, I am constantly impressed by leaders who are authentic, open and curious about people and how things are done.  Their genuine interest in learning is contagious and encourages openness and excitement around inquiry and solution building. They are also often good communicators as well as listeners.  They are comfortable sharing their thought process and reasoning as well as their faults and mistakes, inspiring others to join them as they navigate change.

I recently read an article by a local leader, Jeff Lockwood, Global Head of Communications at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), where Jeff makes the analogy of balancing the waves while surfing to balancing one’s role as a leader.  Jeff titled his article “Leadership Lessons from Surfing Badly”.  The lessons were simply stated but a reminder of the importance of perspective and learning from our failures. A summary of the three lessons Jeff learned follows:

Manage Urgency

Jeff describes paddling frantically on his surfboard to catch the first wave, then quickly pivoting, leading to disastrous results more often than not.  As leaders, too often there is a feeling of urgency, and the time to scan the environment and set things up properly is neglected.  This may be attributed to many things including heavy workload and tight deadlines, yet taking the time to assess the situation, re-prioritize, develop a plan and line up the team and necessary resources allow us to set things up properly for enabling success.

Be Present, Anticipate, Adjust

To successfully stay upright and ride a wave you need to be one with the wave and continually make adjustments with your position, weight distribution and angle of attack as the wave changes in speed and size.  Not unlike successfully riding a wave, leading a team also requires being present, aligning resources, being able to anticipate challenges, and making adjustments as needed moving forward.  It means checking in regularly with team and stakeholders, getting feedback, and clearly communicating why the decisions made were made, even if there is a lack of certainty around outcomes.

Embrace Setbacks

“Sometimes you can do everything right and still get knocked off your board. The ocean is humbling that way, constantly reminding us who is the real boss….. I always pop up with a smile, climb on my board, assess what went wrong and head back out - confident that I will catch the next wave” shares Jeff.   Failures are teaching moments. As a leader, there will be times that you get things wrong and will have setbacks, but if you can embrace these moments as learning opportunities, as an opportunity for you to become a better leader, the ride will be more enjoyable and you will become more resilient and confident facing your next challenge. 

Jeff’s full article may be found at

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