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Staying Afloat


Paddle boarding is my favorite summer pastime. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a cross between kayaking and surfing that involves standing on a long board and using an oar to maneuver around a body of water. Easy, right? Not always.

On a recent outing during which weather conditions were a little challenging, I was determined not to fall into the ocean. So I focused squarely on the three most critical factors: the waves, the wind, and the wake of other vessels.  As long as I sustained that focus on those 3-Ws, I was stable and able to move in my desired direction.

But then a fourth W crept in: What if…? As soon as I let my mind wander in that direction, I started to worry and wobble.

As in paddle boarding, so it is in business. Stability, progress, and success demand a clear and sustained focus on the 3-Ws:

Waves: This is the natural rhythm of the business, the consistent ebb and flow of activity, demand, and revenue. There may be little that you can do to change these waves, but there’s plenty you can do to anticipate, plan, and ultimately ride them toward your intended destination.

Wind: These are the constantly shifting external conditions that sweep over and can easily take you off your plotted course if unchecked. Changing demographics. New government regulations.  Economic trends.  Technology break-throughs. Knowing that the wind is always out there, moving and swirling with change, allows savvy leaders to be ready to plot a new course, paddle differently, and actually use its energy to help move forward.

Wake: defines wake as the “visible track of turbulence left by something moving through water.” This turbulence is more episodic and less expected than the effects of waves and the wind. It’s the new competitor entering the marketplace with a game-changing product. It’s the natural disaster that cuts off the supply chain. It’s the political unrest that closes a major market. These wake episodes may not be anticipated, and their effects can be completely unstabilizing. Just knowing they are inevitable and watching for signs can help. Developing a flexible, resilient workforce that’s ready to quickly pivot, shift strategies, and change direction can transform these dangers that might put others under water into challenges that can be overcome.

In business – as on the water – it’s easy to become distracted by that fourth W: What if…? But, developing the discipline that allows for a clear and consistent focus on the 3-Ws is the key to staying balanced, stable, and upright. It’s also the key to enjoying the ride.

What about you? How are the waves, wind, and wake treating you? How do you maintain a focus on these 3-Ws?



  1. Great post, Julie!

    Who would have known that paddle boarding had such a direct correlation with business and leadership. I think you’re spot on with building a strong foundation by mastering “wind, waves, and wake”. Just like a building’s foundation is designed to handle the unexpected, your 3 Ws can position a business to be strong when the inevitable “What if…” occurs.

    Thanks for this one. Inspiring way to start the day!

    • Thanks so much, Stephen. You’d be amazed at the connections to be made between paddle boarding and leadership. (Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to hit the water this weekend!)

      I really like the analogy to a building’s foundation… and in Southern California, many of our buildings are on rollers to allow them to respond to earthquakes (another kind of wave.)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment… and I hope you have a lovely weekend.


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