• Matt Black

4 Lessons #SharkWeek2015 Taught Me About Leadership

I love sharks.

Their sheer size and power. The elegance they show as they shoot through the water or breach during an attack on unsuspecting prey. Their tenacity to survive for over 400 million years…

There’s just something remarkable about the balance they strike between beauty and beast.

Discovery’s Shark Week has become a TV highlight of the summer for many, myself included. Despite reports that the science behind some of the programming has become less of a focus in favour of epic cinematography and stunt-based sequences, I still can’t get enough.

Asides from the spectacular, sometimes never-before-seen footage they capture – and the risks they take doing so – I’ve also admired the efforts that Shark Week have made to embrace the social media community, even in the face of criticism and adversity. This year, Discovery took it to the next level by striking a deal with Meerkat to use live video streams and offer the platform’s community deeper dives behind-the-scenes with production teams and the sharks themselves.

While binge-watching this year’s nightly lineup, it struck me that leaders are a lot like sharks. There’s a ton of responsibility that comes with being the species that keeps our oceans healthy and in balance – and conversely, leaders are expected to perform similar duties for their organizations. The best leaders spend a lot of time in the deep waters of the human condition, faced with challenges steeped in emotion, ethics & conflict.

Here are 4 lessons that Shark Week 2015 taught me about leadership:

1. Leaders have to continuously evolve and adapt to their surroundings.

Just because it worked yesterday, doesn’t mean it’s going to work today. That’s the reality for leaders.

And that’s also true for sharks as well. I mean, think about it – 400 million years of survival serve as proof that this incredible animal has always found a way to evolve.

Leaders are no different; with high rates of turnover (I’m looking at you Millennials!), ever-changing economic conditions, and targets being set higher and higher, leaders must adapt their mindset and approach. The pressures to stay on top of industry trends and remain ahead of the pack are also constant reminders of the importance of adaptability.

And frankly, proactively seeking these opportunities out is usually what sets apart the good leaders from the great leaders! I’ve never enjoyed the feeling of complacency or knowing that a competitor is one step ahead of you. Adopting a mindset that is predisposed to evolution as a professional and person is more often than not going to set you up for success.

2. Leaders have to respect the ecosystem they’re in.

Being a leader doesn’t necessarily translate to being fully in charge. Most organizations have multiple levels of leadership built into their hierarchies, which means that for many, there’s always someone else to answer to.

It’s the same out in the Big Blue.

Makos, hammerheads, tiger sharks… sure, they’re all impressive predators. But they all take their marching orders from the Great White.

Even if you’re in a position of prominence as a leader in your organization, you’ll never reach your full potential by constantly chumming the waters. Even if you disagree with decisions that are made, or if you’re at odds with the powers that be, you’ve got to be smart and strategic at all times.

The ecosystem at your office or within your organization exists for a reason – especially if your company is successful. And while I’m not a proponent of stagnation or “falling in line” just because that’s “just the way things are done here,” I also understand that thumbing your nose at bigger fish than you doesn’t always end up well.

3. Building strong clans is critical to a leader’s long-term success.

As a leader, you’re only as good as the team around you.

I’m sure we’ve all heard that expression or some variation of it before, right? But can the same be said for sharks? Sharks are often represented as loners, and in many cases, that appears to be true as they don’t form the same types of social bonds that orcas or dolphins do.

However, this year’s Shark Week programming featured an episode titled Shark Clans, which focused on incredible research that proves Great White Sharks, the ocean’s apex predator, hunt in clans. It seems that the same White sharks hunt in the same spots, at the same time, with the same group of sharks, which to me proves that they’ve discovered true strength in numbers.

Likewise, to be truly successful, every leader must expend a huge amount of energy building relationships with their team. To establish yourself within an organization as a reliable decision maker, you’re going to need to prove that you can influence, motivate and understand complex nuances of people. The only real way to make this happen is to build a strong clan that believes in you, can carry out your plan and will have your back when times are tough.

4. There are different “species” of leaders emerging on a daily basis.

Every summer, Shark Week researchers uncover new species of sharks. It’s usually near the sea floor and in areas that for a long time went untouched, but it’s amazing nonetheless.

It blows my mind to think that there are still different types of animals out there that we have yet to discover. But it also calls to mind that there are leadership styles which still remain a mystery. There are leaders who are on the cusp of bringing their own unique thoughts and ideas to the forefront.

Business is evolving by the minute thanks to the advent of new technologies that make us smarter, more productive and exponentially more efficient. Whether we focus on Elon Musk or Sheryl Sandberg, Jeff Weiner or Marissa Mayer, these key decision makers are re-defining what it means to be leaders. They’re showing their employees, shareholders and the rest of the world that there are new ways to think, better ways to live and brighter days ahead.

It’s difficult to comprehend, but work as we know it today is likely going to look nothing like this 50 or 100 years from now. There has already been a huge shift in today’s workforce and the standards people demand from their companies. That’s why it’s so critical that each new species of leader is versatile, understanding, progressive and truly in touch with their people.

Have you witnessed similar human trends or behaviour in any other animal species? If so, how does leadership present itself in that society or food chain? Feel free to discuss in the Comments section below!


©2021 by Matt Black Ink | All rights reserved | Toronto