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  • Writer's pictureSusan & Renée

How a Baby Whale Can Teach Leadership Lessons

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

It’s a whale of a tale…literally

We want to share a story that is fascinating in and of itself, but also provides real life leadership lessons.

First, the story.

Lynne Cox is a long distance open water swimmer. She became the first person to swim the Strait of Magellan, the Bering Strait, and the Cape of Good Hope.

The story we are sharing dates back to when she was 17 years old, long before these accomplishments. She went out for a “little” 2 hour swim in the ocean off the coast of Massachusetts.

On her way back to the pier, she felt the water displace below her. It was an odd feeling. She kept swimming. It happened again. Now, she was used to dolphins or seals swimming underneath her, but this was different. Her heart sank, could it be a shark?

She started swimming for her life.

As she got closer to the pier, the man who ran the bait shop was yelling and waving her off. He was screaming, “YOU HAVE A BABY WHALE SWIMMING UNDERNEATH YOU! DON’T COME TO SHORE!”

If she came to shore, the baby whale might come with her and become beached.

Lynne turned back to the open ocean.

Long story short, the bait shop man put a call out to fishermen and the coast guard to see if there was a solo whale nearby. Eventually they found the mama whale out by an oil rig. Lynne changed course and swam to the oil rig.

When she got to the rig, the mother whale swam out to meet her baby. Lynne was petrified. The whale was between 40-50 feet long and weighed about 90,000 pounds. She had no idea how the mama would react to this human babysitter. The mom flipped on her side and looked directly at Lynne. Lynne reached out and touched the whale. The mom turned and swam away with her baby in tow. A few hours later, fishermen reported that mom and baby had found their pod.

In all, Lynne swam for 5 hours in the open ocean. Her ability to take in shifting information, change direction, take risks, and face fears while staying completely focused on her goal teaches us these leadership lessons:

  • Big things can be happening underneath you. When they come into your awareness, use agility and creativity to address the issue.

  • Move in spite of fear. The author, M. Scott Peck, puts it this way, “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.”

  • Trust those around you to provide support and guidance. In the changing business world, you need a team to guide, inspire and support you.

  • Change direction, as necessary, to reach your goal. Leaders need to constantly assess the business landscape to determine when to shift gears. This type of responsive leadership is necessary to reach company goals.

Learning these lessons by reading a blog is a whole lot easier than swimming in the ocean with whales (definitely not as cool, though). Implementing these elements in your leadership practice can help your company meet the challenges of the changing business market.

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