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The Importance of Remembering How to be a Team Member

Walleye CloseupI was very lucky to be reminded lately of what it’s like to be a team member instead of being a team leader.  It was fun, refreshing, and insightful.  Too many times as leaders, we forget what it’s like to be led instead of doing the leading.

I tried to achieve some balance in my life by taking a few days off to go fishing on Lake Erie with my son.  We chartered a boat for three days – just the two of us.  If you’ve never been walleye fishing on a trolling boat (we hadn’t) it’s a bit different than you would expect – and a lot more work than we bargained for.

The crew consisted of the Captain (Nate), the First Mate (Ed), my son, and me.  When we showed up at 6AM, it seemed like a normal charter – we sat there trying to wake up while Nate and Ed prepared the boat for departure.  We headed out onto the lake in search of the delicious toothy critters and watched the glowing horizon with anxious excitement.

That’s when we got the surprise of the trip.

Nate and Ed got out 10 fishing poles.  By my math, there were only two anglers aboard.  “Gee, that’s gonna be a lot of lines to manage” I thought to myself.  Little did I know…

Nate and Ed then introduced us to our responsibilities for the day.  They ran two planer boards out to the sides of the boat (they’re like little wooden boats connected to the boat by a long rope like a clothesline).  Nate told us we had to let each lure on the 10 rods out to a specific distance.  Every rod had a line counter on it and at first we’d be running “90-80 on starboard and 70-60 on port.”  Um, okay… whaddya mean Nate?

“Run these 5 poles out to 90 feet and 80 feet alternately and those poles out to 70 and 60.”  Got it.  Easy enough.

“Okay.  Now that you’ve run that line out, attach a rubber band to the line like this (demonstrates how), slap one of these little clips on the band after you stretch it like this, then clip the clip on the planer board line like this.  Then let the rod line out to the end of the planer board line.  Now do that for all 5 rods on this side.  Keep the clips spaced out about 10 feet from each other on the planer board line.”  Um… now my son and I had to prep 10 rods.  It wasn’t easy to do quickly but we got it done.  He became responsible for letting out line and setting distance.  I became rubber band and clip guy as well as line spacing guy on the planer board line.  I had a very specific job to do.  We got all 10 lines out.

“Now what, Nate?”

“We drive.  When a fish hits, the rubber band will pop out of the clip.  Set the hook, let the line drift behind the boat so it doesn’t tangle with the other 4 lines.  Then reel that baby in and boat the fish.”  Fun time!

After a bit, we got a bite.  Fish on!  My son boated it.  Another bite.  My turn!  I boated it.  His fish was bigger.  When we got them to the boat, Ed manned the net and popped them in the cooler.

Nate: “Okay!  Get those lines back out there!”  Oh.  That’s right.  We have jobs.  My son let out the line.  I started doing my rubber band/clip/planer board thing.  Another bite!  Fish on!  My son took over.  It got fast and furious.  We got into a rhythm of setting hooks, letting out lines, clips, rubber bands, and boating fish.  It was hard work.  At first we kinda sucked at it.  We were slow.  Inefficient.  We messed up and caused a few tangles.  That said, over time we got pretty good at it.  Captain Nate encouraged us, gave us tips along the way, but also let us screw up and learn from it.

That’s a nice fishing story Mike.  Where’s the leadership lesson?

Walleye Fishing SuccessWhen the fishing slowed for a bit, I reflected on what the experience was like.  I was having a great time.  I was working my butt off but I had good guidance from my boss, I had great coworkers who were good at their jobs and understanding of each other when someone screwed up.  We had clear goals (24 keeper walleye per day).  We had specific roles.  We were allowed to learn on our own, make our own decisions, try new things, and enjoy our team’s success.

Think about your team.  When’s the last time you got an appreciation for setting aside the mantle of leadership and enjoying having a specific role in the broader whole?  Have you as a leader created an environment where your folks thrive and have the opportunity to learn, have clear goals, and can enjoy success together?    If not, it’s pretty clear what your near-term focus should be in terms of creating a fun and exciting environment for them.

Freezer Full of WalleyeOh… and in terms of total success for the trip?  54 great walleye, 91 awesome perch, a ton of white bass, a few grass donkeys, and three days of fun with my awesome son.  Anyone want to come over for dinner?  We’re having walleye…  Anyone have a good walleye recipe?  I feel like I’m going to be the Forrest Gump of walleye for a while (fried walleye, grilled walleye, broiled walleye, creamed walleye, walleye gumbo…).

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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3 Responses to “The Importance of Remembering How to be a Team Member”

  1. RJ Bradner says:

    Great story with a good reminder that superior leaders always see themselves as part of cohesive unit where each person plays a specific role that must excel in performance of that function(s).

    P.S. Connie has a super panko Crumb recipe for that she bakes.
    P.S.S. What is a “Grass Donkey”? Got the boys at the Strongsville Bass shop stymied. :)

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Glad you enjoyed the story and your observation is spot on.

      Please send me the recipe. Would love to try it. Had baked walleye last night with a cream onion sauce. It was outstanding.

      A grass donkey is a sheepshead. Captain Nate said it when we landed the first one and it cracked me up so I had to adopt the term.

  2. Brian Link says:

    I like your segue, “That’s a nice fishing story Mike. Where’s the leadership lesson?”

    I’ve been reading a lot of management and leadership books lately and it’s an often neglected perspective – from the team member’s point of view. I’ll be taking your advice in making sure the stuff I write addresses this context. Being a great team member is perhaps the most important way to build excellent teams (leaders and team members alike). Our role as leaders is to coach team members, not just on their jobs specifically but also on the cultural and personal interactions defined by simply being on a team – something everyone has in common :)

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