Whether you are the leader of an organization, the leader of a classroom, a leader in your church or the leader of your children, you will always have the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk. Will you take the risk or play it safe? Recently, I decided to head to the beach with some girl friends of mine. One of them researching the area wanted to know if I had ever been to the Flora-Bama (a bar on the Florida/Alabama line). My comment was, “I have driven by it many times.” She then informed me that we would be in town on the weekend of their annual “mullet toss”. Now I must admit that I had heard and wondered about the mullet toss, but had never been in town during this particular event. While I am not a bar person, the thought of watching people fling a fish across state lines did interest me somewhat.
On the ride to the beach, some research was done about the event and we discovered several things: photos showed huge groups of people on the beach for this event, there were three days of fish flinging – Sunday being the final day, the fifteen dollar entry fee to throw the fish went to charity and all throwers received a t-shirt commemorating the event. Arriving at the beach late Saturday, we decided that we would get up and make our way to the Flora-Bama. The final round of throwing was to begin at 10 am. A local contact told us where to park for a reasonable fee – with that money also going to charity and we were off. Arriving at the bar, we paid an entrance fee and proceeded to head to the beach to watch the final round of the mullet toss.
Chairs had been set up for spectators, tents were set up for the workers, the emcee was in place and the stretch of beach reserved for throwing the fish was set. Lest you worry about the mistreatment of fish, I was glad to see that there were a minimal number of mullets in an ice-chest that were re-used in the throw and then fed to the birds afterwards. As my friends and I watched, I contemplated throwing a fish myself. The reality is that I didn’t particularly want my hands to hold or smell of fish, my throwing ability is poor at best and the distance of my throw would never arouse the crowds into a cheering frenzy. I stood on the side telling myself that I would look foolish and embarrass myself if I went out to throw a fish. The other side of my brain told myself that I may never be here again during the mullet toss weekend and if I went home and did not throw a fish, some of my family would give me a hard time and I would regret not doing so.
While I contemplated my decision, I did what every good leader should do – I observed. They started the mullet toss with children and I watched child after child step into the circle unafraid, grab a fish and throw it as far as they could. Most of the fish made it over the state line; others did not. Then the adults began to throw. Men physically fit stepped into the circle. One of these men had made it to the finals the day before, but did not win his age category. He was back to give it another try. The more I observed, I determined that while I would not be able to throw the distance of the finalist, I probably wouldn’t be the worst out there.
The next thing a good leader does is to get advice from those who have traveled the path before them. I spoke to a young lady, probably an eighth or ninth grade student, who had thrown the mullet sixty feet. I asked her about the best way to throw the fish. I had seen people fold the fish in half to make it more compact, but she told me that her technique was to hold it like a football with the fin at the top and throw it the same way. Feeling I had some knowledge under my belt, I signed up to throw the fish.
Leadership is sometimes a lonely position. I tried to get the others with me to sign up to throw a fish, but I was unable to do so. Good leaders find spots where people can excel and put them to work. Since my friends would not step up to throw a fish with me, they were appointed to be the photographers for the event and to cheer for me no matter how far I threw the fish…and they did so beautifully. With no one to take the plunge with me, I moved through the line to toss the fish. When you are a leader, you have to be comfortable in the decision you have made, even when walking alone. I stepped into the circle, picked up my fish and promptly hurled it 36 feet. At least the mullet made it over the state line! I went to fetch my fish and true to form, my friends cheered and photographed the moment. I claimed my T-shirt and off we went.
Leadership is a funny thing and I would have never thought it would share the stage with a mullet toss. Leadership often requires you to take a risk – a risk of looking foolish, a risk of failure, a risk of no one sharing your beliefs and joining in beside you. However, I believe when you step out and those among you see you being willing to take risks, they become more creative risk-takers as well. I often shared with teachers that it is important to put yourself in the role of a student so that you don’t forget how it feels to be in a position of struggling to learn something new. We need to engage those we lead by example rather than telling them how to do something.
Good leaders celebrate accomplishments. This is not about everyone getting accolades, but true recognition/appreciation for a job well done. While my mullet toss distance set no records, I was proud of myself for stepping up and throwing the fish. Has someone in your periphery stepped out of their comfort zone and attempted a task? Recognize the attempt was made and they will try again. Success comes one step at a time. Very few people reach a set goal all at once. Success is like a ladder – you move to the top by conquering one rung at a time and are willing to climb higher because you made it to the rung below.
The older I get, the shorter life becomes. Each day has opportunities for me to take or to ignore. Some opportunities are silly, such as tossing a mullet – others more life impacting, directing and imparting things of importance to those closest to me. Don’t let those opportunities pass you by because you might look silly or walk alone – get out there and be willing to do all you can as a leader, even if it means throwing a fish!