You Can’t Talk Under Water: Leadership Lessons I Learned in the Pool written by SCN Blog Contributor, Julie Jakopic.
The Olympics are over and it was great fun to watch my sport, synchronized swimming. When I was competing as a teenager we were fighting to get the sport recognized. Now when I watch, I am amazed not at how long they athletes hold their breath but about how they communicate. This is a sport that primarily takes place underwater continuously in rhythm with the beat of music. There’s no space to redirect people or stop and try it again.
Tip 1) If you aren’t familiar with the sport, there are two ways synchronized swimmers compete, individually and in unison with others. I know the idea of a solo routine in a sport called “synchronized” is a bit of a misnomer but it is an important part of being a great team member. You have to hone your personal craft and contribution so that when you are working with others you have the skill, experience, knowledge and confidence.
Tip 2) Before you get in the water, you need a clear plan for what the team routine is going to look like. Who gets in the water in what order? What happens next? Where do you go? What do you do when you get there? Underwater, you can’t change the plan effectively. Similarly, the best teamwork happens when there is clarity. It doesn’t mean there is no innovation or creativity. It does mean that there are clear times for it. In synchro, it means before or between performances not in the middle of one before the judges. At work, it may be before or after board meetings but not during.
Tip 3) You also need to be clear about what role each person is to play. This is the personal part. Each person needs to know what is expected of them, when and ideally how that impacts the others.
Tip 4) It’s also important to be aware of what is happening and be able to adapt to the unexpected. The truth is things do happen. Someone gets kicked. Someone mistakes this particular pool’s markings. Someone hits her head. It is hard to get the best score in those circumstances but how you handle it in and out of the water is about leadership. If necessary, can you quickly and generously redirect the action without speaking? Can you use the rules and remaining time to shift to create the best possible outcome? If there is a problem, how do you support each other at the end of the performance? It requires a balance of passionate detachment. Caring deeply and understanding the limits of what you control for the outcome at this particular moment.