You’ve probably learned something about yourself as a leader in unlikely settings. So, you won’t find it odd that I learned four leadership lessons while water skiing.

It’s something I’d always wanted to do. The opportunity met my desire in Antigua whose brilliant skies and shimmering, calm pristine waters drew me in. The urge to learn was followed immediately by a sense of awkwardness and a question.

Should I do this?

The Four Leadership Lessons Begin

I walked past resting sunbathers who would be my casual observers. I buckled the life-jacket. Then waded into shallow water to position the skis. One felt too loose; the other too tight. I tried to adjust and tweak while treading water. As I grew tired, the ski size seemed good enough.

Get on with it!

Four Leadership Lessons: #1

Don’t wait for perfect.

I could move ahead despite an uncomfortable fit. Leadership is like this. We may be stepping into shoes of a strong, magnetic revered leader or, an authoritative one with a style different from our own. To lead in our truest light, we have to find our own leadership fit. Begin with the shoes you have and step forward.

Be Coach-able

Trying to coordinate the skis, I inched forward, grabbed the rope and waited for the boat to lift and pull me forward.


The driver shouted, “Bend your legs!”


I re-positioned and fell again as my legs moved into an involuntary split.

Then the driver shouted, “Bend your legs AND lean back!”

“Bend AND lean? How do I do that? “

Four Leadership Lessons: #2

Be coach-able. Clear the head noise. Don’t judge yourself. Breathe. Listen and do as the coach says. Then, make necessary adjustments. You won’t know all the tools and tips at once. When the student is ready…additional instructions become clear.

Stay the Course

More attempts followed. As fatigue and self-consciousness set in, I thought about the people on the beach. Were they watching?  Should I just climb in the boat and go back to shore? (Groan).

The driver shouted further instructions “Bend your legs, stay seated, straighten them and then: LEAN BACK!”

I held onto the rope (for dear life) and willed my parts to move in tandem. I felt the boat roar forward as I bent, stood and leaned back.

I was vertical!

By leaning back, I moved forward. Ahhhh, I didn’t have to clutch the rope and shrink. I had to hold on, lean back and, expand.

Four Leadership Lessons: #3

Stick with it.

We never know just how close success is – so don’t let go of the rope too soon. You’ll learn all the moves you need to succeed by taking risks and seeing them through.

Four leadership lessons on water skis

Four Leadership Lessons on Water Skis

Get Out There

I circled around, again and again, marveling that I was actually standing up and moving on water skis. When I felt  ready to be done, I signaled the driver. I ended on my terms, when I was ready, not because I fell or gave up too soon.

As I walked back, one of the sunbathers shouted, “You looked really good out there.”

Four Leadership Lessons: #4

If you want to lead, you need to get out there!

What’s your leadership learning story?

Julia Daly Stefanini and Anne Perschel, Executive Coach/Organizational Psychologist at Germane Coaching & Consulting, met through The Boston Club, a membership organization with a mission to advance women on boards and executive leadership suites.



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Julia Stefanini
Julia Stefanini
Julia Stefanini is an experienced business leader and communications enthusiast. A senior leader at a Fortune 15 Company, Julia’s career spanned over 30 years, most recently as Regional VP, Sales of a $3.7B base. Julia is especially keen on identifying, coaching and mentoring talent. Julia believes “leadership is telling a story”. She's here to share some of her stories with you.

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My Four Leadership Lessons on Water Skis