CEO Coaching: 6 Hours, 2 Fish

I spent six hours fly fishing the Cache la Poudre River in northern Colorado on a Saturday in late October and only caught two fish; one on my second cast and the other hours later, shortly before I headed home for a beer.

That day I did something that I rarely do, I spent all those hours on one small section of water that I know had fish in it. I know that because I could see them eating just below the surface; more accurately, I could see the water on the surface swirl indicating fish eating below the surface. Four or five of them. This indicates that they were eating some sort of emerging bug—a nymph heading towards daylight. 

Knowing that and watching for bugs in the air should have allowed me to choose the right fly and the right leader with the right cast to catch a bunch of fish, but I didn’t. All day long I changed out flies with little luck. The fish won.

At dinner with friends that night I told this story and one said, “That must have been frustrating!” It wasn’t. It was fun! However, earlier in my fishing career I would have been terribly frustrated. The difference was perspective. I know that even great trout hunters (and I’m not one!) get skunked sometimes. I also know that treating tough situations as a puzzle to solve rather than a battle to be won leads to better learning and lower blood pressure. Simon Sinek would say that I have learned to play the “infinite game.” (Well, on that day, anyway…)

I bring this story to you because I’ve recently been exposed to several companies that are so focused on a finite game that they (pressured by short-term investors) are doing silly and even dishonorable things to try to attain a financial goal in a short, arbitrary time frame. Focusing on tactical decisions and cutting costs at the expense of executing a defined strategy and creating a committed team. Random acts in pursuit of an above average return.

Creating a growing, profitable business is not a cut and dried process. Sometimes you catch fish, sometimes you don’t. Playing the long game is the best game to play. Best for shareholders (over the long term), best for management, best for the team. 

When I got home after my two fish experience, I opened a beer and thought of a couple of flies that I didn’t have in my fly box that might have worked. Next time. Long game.