CEO Leadership Lessons from the World’s Best Kite Surfers
What do the world’s elite kiteboarders and the Founder of a software technology company have in common? At first thought, common clichés of each profession may assume that similarities may be lost in the wind.
I recently embarked on a once in a lifetime trip hosted by Red Bull Queen of the Air champion, Susi Mai’s Mai Adventures, and Red Bull King of the Air champion, Nick Jacobsen, to the remote lagoons of Lencois Maranhenses, Brazil. Flying into Sao Paulo, then on to San Luis, our trio rode a Jeep for four hours through a desert village, across a river, and another hour through the sand dunes.
Along the way, I learned the shared characteristics of entrepreneurs and top athletes that allows them to preform at their very best:
1. Relentlessly Practice Your Passion
We’re told “follow your passion” to find success. Susi and Nick go far beyond this notion, as they achieved mastery of their sport through relentless practice. They determined what they loved from an early age and have spent most of the waking hours of their life perfecting their craft. Passionate practice turned Susi and Nick into the top professionals in their sport. My passion is about bringing products to the market- Susi and Nick make me ask myself “How can I get better and better?” both professionally and personally.
2. Develop Internal Grit
Grit comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. Standing at 5’4”, 100lbs with long blonde-hair, Susi appears to have strolled right out of a surfing magazine. But don’t be fooled, she’s got a lot of grit. On the day I arrived, she had just won the Red Bull Rally dos Ventos, a race that required her to travel 40km over the open South Atlantic Ocean and 25km through Brazilian desert sands and lagoons with little to no direction. She told me her philosophy with one of her favorite quotes “Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it” – Sir Winston Churchill.
3. Manage Risk
The greatest entrepreneurs and athletes are huge risk takers, but they are not frivolous, they take a calculated and managed approach. This is how Nick can successfully leap off of the tallest objects in the world. He recently jumped off the famed Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai from 1053 feet – completing a seamless landing while he cruised along the surface of the water. Great leaders and entrepreneurs can do the same with seemingly risky behavior, but not without extreme calculation and management.
4. Be Fluid like Water
Never stop pursuing goals. Be fluid and flexible when presented with obstacles. Not every speed bump needs to be met with brute force, instead, maintain the vision and fluidly move forward and work around whatever issue may arise. On this trip we never knew where the wind was going to be blowing hard- you never knew where the conditions were going to be just right. Remaining flexible and agile allowed us to have the vision of a great day, every day. Businesses have ups and downs, good days and bad quarters. As an entrepreneur, flexibility and perseverance determines how you will overcome the obstacles of leading your company through the toughest times.
5. Connect and Support
The kiteboarding community and professional athletes in general look to each other as a support system. They compete, but also rely on one another. To launch and land a kite takes more than one person. Similarly, it’s impossible to run a company alone. A community of trust and camaraderie is necessary for success.
6. Be Authentic
Know who you are, be who you are, and surround yourself with people who accept you. I noticed everyone on this trip could be their authentic self, creating a stress-free environment. When we’re not distracted by aiming to be what others expect, we’re able to have a still mind and focus on the job at hand.
7. Move Forward
Be action oriented, optimistic, and forward thinking. The best athletes and entrepreneurs don’t live in the past, because focusing on past success can stifle growth and productivity. Envision your future and move towards it in the present. Enjoy the ride and keep going.