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My Leadership Insights are rooted heavily in 15+ years of experience in the training and personal development industry. In my day-to-day life, I help both individuals and corporations empower their growth through knowledge and career education.

Business insights from Idaho - What I learned fly fishing at the Compleat Leader

By Jeremy Tillman May 17, 2019
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JeremyBlogs | Jeremy Fly Fishing

Last summer I had the privilege of taking part in a one-of-a-kind leadership program called the Compleat Leader.  It's not your typical executive leadership program and does carry a modest price tag of only $10,000.  So after that big gulp I then had to explain to my team and wife how a four day fly fishing “getaway” in Idaho was supposed to make me a better leader? … much less help me solve a critical business challenge.

I too wrestled with the same question last year when I was presented an opportunity to join the program, led by Scott and Najeeb from PenningtonHD, whom I trust and have known for 10+ years. Though on paper it sounded incredible, the learning practitioner in me was still a bit skeptical. Honestly, it came at a time when the stakes were high for me and as with so many leaders, time is irreplaceable. Nonetheless, I changed my plans, packed my bags and navigated the interesting journey to Idaho Falls.

My first takeaway from the experience was that I am not alone in my struggles.

As entrepreneurs, we experience the world in a unique way. We’re wired to think strategically and competitively in our everyday lives. We also often think we’re alone or unique in our struggles; but in reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  

My fishing partner the first day was the founder & CEO of CITYROW, a fitness industry startup led by Helaine. At the time, CITYROW was primed for explosive growth and success – yet, not void of internal struggle and surprise hurdles that seemed impossible to overcome. Needless to say, we bonded. Immediately.

This realization goes beyond a simple takeaway. The sense of community that was built over such an intensive four-day span truly reinforced the concepts and methodology I’m working on with CommunityFlo and illustrates why it’s so important. I want to stay connected in a real way with the group of individuals that SHARED my experience. I want to continue to learn from THEIR takeaways and share my own. And although technology is critical, we have yet to truly experience a platform that can foster these relationships.

Anyway, back to the question at hand -- Was it worth the 10K sticker price???  Well I can tell you this much - the food sure was! I’ve traveled all over the world, and my goodness, the food at the Henry Fork Lodge was incredible!

Everything about this experience revitalized me. The logistics, the lodging, the company, the lessons learned – all first class.

Here’s the 2nd lesson I learned:

There’s an old adage that you catch what you fish for, and in fly fishing, the fly you use has a tremendous impact on what you’ll likely catch.  We went to the fly shop and of course I purchased a selection of mainly big flies, because if you want to catch a big fish, as every entrepreneur does, you must use a big fly, right?

However, after three days I never used a fly anywhere close to the size of the one above.  In-fact all the flies I used were barley bigger than the size of the small hook. 

And though I caught lots of fish I never caught one larger than this.

There were fish 3 times larger in these areas so what was the issue?

I learned quickly that fly fishing is process-oriented and that it takes time and experience to work yourself up to the bigger fish.  Hmm… process. Sounds a lot like business.  I recognized there were other elements that I needed to learn to control before just applying a bigger fly.  The behavior of the water, finding stability above or below the water, casting and the list goes on… But most importantly I really needed to experience the struggle with the smaller fish to appreciate again the hope of larger ones….

So many times in business, especially entrepreneurs, we strive to catch the big fish right away.  And occasionally we land them early on but far too often we fail to really reel them in.  If only we had learned to master the smaller fish and built scalable processes that helped ensure our growth and success is sustainable.  There were people in our cohort that caught their largest fish first and then spent the rest of the time frustrated with the fish they were catching... and I'll just leave it at that.  

One of the keys of fly fishing in a moving river is finding good footing.  One of the days I was more focused on quickly getting to the spot I thought had the best fish than ensuring each step I took was a secure one, even if getting to that spot meant it would take a little longer or cause me to get there second.  So unsurprisingly I slipped and fell in the water fully immersed at one point. After a nice laugh instead of jumping back in I actually took some time out to reflect. This highlighted the importance of not discrediting our failures and slip ups so quickly. The lessons we can learn in the moment of struggle often strengthen us to handle those circumstances better the next time.  

My third major takeaway was this: Take time to breathe. I mean if you can’t find peace and a quiet mind on a chill morning like this…

Great ideas tend to emerge more often in the calm than in the chaos... it's just many leaders use the excuse of busyness to avoid the down time.  This retreat had forced downtime in nature where all these great minds and amazing people were forced to slow down.  In this slowing down we each got amazing insights as well as took the time to help each other solve and tackle the critical challenges we were facing.

Najeeb and Scott were also right there every step of the journey providing key one-on-one coaching that each of us found uniquely valuable to the experience.  As we slowly unwinded from the grind, unwound our minds, took the focus off of our own issues and started to listen and help each other the light bulbs came on and the mountains we came there facing no longer seemed as daunting.

My final lesson and perhaps the most important takeaway is quite simple: Find your joy.

During my final walk in the woods and the final hour on property I began to realized something.  I needed to take smaller steps, not bigger steps. I've always known a series of smaller steps would lead more certainly to the destination -- I simply had no joy in taking them.

I tied my joy too closely to the “big fish” successes I was striving to achieve and not rejoicing in the little ones along the way.  So much that I forgot to appreciate the beauty that was all around me in life and in business.  This trip was a huge step towards restoring joy and gave me a renewed hope. I even laughed a little along the way