Leaders Ride the Waves

by Alli Polin on January 28, 2014

leaders ride the waves

While on my recent family vacation, I spent some time joyfully playing in the ocean.  On days that the water was calm, I would get in to cool off and get out feeling refreshed and at ease.  However, the calm days were not my favorites, I much preferred when the waves came in unexpected intervals, crashing towards the shore, calling me to dive in, be present and engage.

Anyone that has been to the ocean knows that when the waves get bigger and bigger a storm is coming or is very far off at sea and is spreading the ripples from its wrath.  It was one of those days leading up to a storm that my son asked me to go for a swim.  As we waded into the crystal clear blue water, I started to get nervous.  Would the waves pull him out?  Pull him under?  As I turned to look at him to give him stern directions to be safe, I was whacked from behind by a big wave and was instantly met with his giggles. He has the best, most robust laugh and every wave brought on another chorus.

Together, we jumped the waves, did some body surfing, rode the waves to shore and even walked out beyond the break to see their impact from a whole new perspective. Instead of pulling back or playing on the edge to minimize the risk of getting knocked over, we took on each wave with confidence and went “all in.”

How often do you face waves at work or with your relationship, family, or friends and play at the shore line to avoid getting in too deep?

Cowabunga! Ride the Wave

Going with the flow doesn’t mean you can’t choose to do it with flair.  There are those that think that leadership only shines when going against the powerful waves of the status quo to create change.  I believe that personal leadership is also riding the waves with passion, purpose, commitment and engagement.  Come on, not every leadership success has to be a fight.  Be positive and be a role model for rising above the choppy waters to surf farther, and with more joy, than you ever thought possible.  Cowabunga, baby!

Jump, Jump, Jump

When you jump waves in the ocean, you can feel yourself buoy and move with the current but still stand your ground. It may be hard to fully understand if you’ve never experienced it yourself, but it’s a moment of being in motion and stationary all at the same time.  As a leader, how can you be planted yet flex enough to move through what’s coming towards you?  Part of the secret is jumping with others.  As I held my son’s hand, we moved together and if we started to drift apart, our connection did not falter.  Living your leadership, and jumping the waves together, enables you to move and flow with ideas from the team but still stand strong with your vision.

Splash, Giggle and Play

I started once again to give my son an earful of “do this not that” to keep him safe and his response was “I know, Mom!”  Leaders need to trust their team and make some positive assumptions that they listened to us in the past, want to be and do their best, and are ready for the challenges in front of them.  If it turns out someone isn’t ready, that’s why, as a leader, you’re in the water with them instead of only watching from the shore. While you’re there, play with ideas, engage with the people around you, splash together to uncover some hidden gems below the surface.

Waves may be a sign of bad weather yet to come but there’s one thing that’s certain, you are strong enough to face the waves that are coming your way.  Go ahead, dive in, you won’t regret it.

How have you learned to ride the waves?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz January 28, 2014 at 7:18 am

Great point, Alli. Leaders don’t always have to go against something; they can join leaders in being for something. In flow, everything aligns. We enjoy what we are doing. Time passes as if timeless. As we do the work, more and more gets accomplished. This is flow. This is riding the wave. This is leading! Thanks for making waves on this point! Jon


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 8:23 am

It feels so good to be in flow. I’ve been in roles where every small step forward was a constant fight. My team and I pushing for innovation and the other divisions pushing back on the waves of change. If only we had found some common ground to ride and play together to where we needed to go instead of being stuck in a battle.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Jon!


Joy Guthrie January 28, 2014 at 7:49 am

Love this post Alli! We have a change video that has as it’s theme as “will you ride the wave or try to stop it.” Change can be very much like “waves.” Love the lessons you are sharing.


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 8:30 am

Can’t wait to watch your videos! The waves of change are often the hardest to ride to shore. We put so much energy into fighting that we miss the openings where we can actually get into flow.

Many thanks to you for your feedback. It means a ton to me!


Lalita Raman January 28, 2014 at 9:18 am

Being in the flow and facing the challenges is so important as a role model and as a person who can inspire others. It is easy to surf the shore but in life we can’t run away from problems because in doing so, we just behave irresponsibly 🙂 and the problems don’t go away.

I love the connection you make between the waves in the ocean and life’s challenges.

Wonderful post Alli.


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 6:39 pm

It’s true, Lalita. Even if we stay at the shore and avoid the waves altogether, problems, challenges and changes still happen but we’re just choosing two watch from the edge.

Thanks so much for your insight and sharing!!


Terri Klass January 28, 2014 at 9:25 am

I loved the visuals you created in your descriptions of being in the ocean and riding the waves, Alli! I felt like I was right there with you and with 10 degree temperatures here, you transported me!

Leaders do need to have some flexibility and just see where their team is headed before adjusting or re-evaluating. I find that when we let others follow their path, we can learn so much and grow. Riding waves and not predicting the outcome can be a very beneficial strategy when we need input and support from others.

Loved the post, Alli!


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm

It’s freezing in the USA and crazy hot here in Australia now so I’m enjoying reliving our days at the beach too.

Really appreciate the reminder that riding the waves as a leader is letting go of the path. One super relaxing afternoon I drifted to the shore and knew I’d get there but not exactly where I’d land. Leadership leaves room for the journey!

What a great addition, Terri! Many thanks!


Bill Benoist January 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

Great analogy with leadership, Alli

I also believe leaders need to stir the pot at times and create their own waves to keep innovation alive. I can think of several companies that didn’t do this – lived along the shoreline never risking the waves and then one day, they were gone.


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Ah!! Yes!! Create their own waves! Funny, when I originally started to work on this post I titled it Leaders Make Waves. Fantastic point on innovation – thanks for adding it here, Bill!


LaRae Quy January 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Great post, Alli. Thank you for reminding us all that leadership does not mean we have to get it perfect 1) on the first try, or 2) all the time.

The key to overcoming obstacles is to keep at it…sounds like a great vacation!


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 7:37 pm

It was a great vacation! I wish I was back relaxing on the beach again now – spent most of my time book in hand but just staring at the sea.

Leadership is definitely like riding the waves for me for so many reasons – thanks for highlighting how resilience matters!


Sabra January 28, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Loved your post and the wave analogy. It’s funny because I am in the process of planning a vacation and I had made the decision to sign up for surfing lessons! I am 43 years old and I will be trying it for the first time, I can’t wait. I love that I am finally at a point in my life that I am willing to fall off the board, get knocked down by the waves, laugh and get back up. Thanks for the great post!


Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Welcome, Sabra! Thanks for your comment!

Woo Hoo to your surfing adventure!! LOVE what you wrote – that you’re willing to finally fall off the board but most importantly, not only will you get back up but LAUGH along the way! Will definitely be amazing and I’m more than a little jealous!


Lolly Daskal January 28, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Leadership often comes in waves. Waves are the voices of tides of our lives, they take ships out to sea and they bring in the sea weed to the shore, the waves in the ocean has its own pulse much like the pulse of our heart.

The waves of leadership bring us back to shore.



Alli Polin January 28, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Beautiful addition, Lolly! I’m especially struck by your last sentence. Leadership brings us back to shore. Reminds me of the under toe, feeling lost and afloat and underwater and it’s leadership in this case that can guide us home when it matters most. Thanks!


Karin Hurt January 29, 2014 at 10:33 am

Nice post. I love your thoughts around making the most of waves that are coming at us. You’re so right… sometimes the best move is to understand the unavoidable waves and work with them, not against them.


Alli Polin January 30, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thanks, Karin! Especially when you see the big ones coming! Finally realized that after months of working up against another leader – best way to move forward was on the same side.


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