Let them jump the wake: leading like a ski boat driver

Jill and I bumped into one another at Women’s Entrepreneur Day in St. Paul. The urban-chic event space rumbled with excited women talking business and fun.

“How’d you hear about this?” Jill asked.

“I know one of the speakers and she mentioned it on her Facebook wall. What about you?”

“We’re the beer sponsor.”

I met Jill through my volunteer work as a community organizer lifting up creative makers and their businesses in the mid-city part of St. Paul—an area we call the Creative Enterprise Zone.

Jill and her partner Deb are running the first woman-owned taproom in our area. They have celebrated three years so far.

I asked her what’s on her mind these days while also slipping in a quick update on our work in the Creative Enterprise Zone. “We just got our 501c3 status! So we’re adding to our board. And of course you are on the list. We know how busy you are.”

Jill mentioned another group that’s asked her onto their board and said, "I want to have five solid years of operating under my belt and then I will consider joining a board. I’d like to join the CEZ board over other options.”

Then she said, “I have a work question. We’ve grown to 50 employees and I’m a motivated but tired leader. What tips do you have for my reading?”

“You mean about leadership?”

"Yes. Leadership. I want to keep my team motivated."

At that moment one of her staff appeared—a youthful woman with long reddish hair and an open smile.

“My short answer to your question is, let your team take the lead on the motivation.”

Jill looked surprised.

“Do either of you know how to water ski? No?”

“Well, can you picture what it looks like when a speed boat is driving fast and two skiers are behind the boat?”

They had the image in their minds.


“When the water is smooth and the driver is going fast, the skiers like to jump the wake. When they get going fast outside the wake, they can get momentum to where it looks like they are almost ahead of the boat.”

“Yeah. I can see that.”

“So that is the leadership message I want to covey.”

“Jill, you and Deb are driving the speed boat. Your team are those good skiers. They are able to jump the wake and get out front.”

Jill and her staff member both smiled.

“And you’ve got your values clear—that’s what matters. Is that right?”

Her staff member nodded before Jill could answer.

Jill echoed, “Yes, we’re values driven and clear about our vision.”

“That’s what’s most important. If you keep conveying those fundamentals, you can let your team assist with leadership and motivation. Let them share what lessons and stories they’re learning from, and thank them for sharing. Encourage them to want to learn and share. That’s authentic leadership in my book.”

Jill smiled again. “I like those ideas.”

Because I am an entrepreneur, too, I handed them each a postcard that pitches my group and individual coaching services. They took them saying the sessions look interesting.

Leadership is not always about being in charge. Leadership grows when we trust ourselves and share forward momentum.

So jump the wake and enjoy your time to lead.

#leadingbysharing #jumpthewake #storyslices #fulfillyourbeauty #WEDmn #womenentrepreneurs #urbangrowler #beermaven

©Catherine Reid Day 2017 All Rights Reserved


Catherine Reid Day