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The Ethical Workplace

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Fly Fishing and Workplace Learning

What does fly fishing have to do with workplace learning, particularly on topics where leadership skill and communication are involved? Everything.

August 7, 2012
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Leadership Development, Coaching & Mentoring, Employee Career Development
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I'm standing in thigh-deep water. My wife is to my right, a guide, a few years older than I am, is between us. I'm wearing waders, have a fly rod in my hand, the water is rushing by, and this is all unfamiliar. I bike, I hike, I exercise a lot, but I don't fish; at least not very often.

The fly is on my hook and I'm told what to do: hold the rod at 11 o'clock (I'm left handed); use your elbow not your wrist; cast gently forward with the rod straight above. Those are three simple instructions. I've read up on casting and even watched a few YouTube videos, which I can even now access on my smartphone.

While I'm not a fisherman, I want to do this right, particularly with my wife, the experienced fisherwoman in our home, watching my very first cast. My arm is back; I use my elbow; gently cast, and out goes the line. My wife gasps, "Are you OK?" I assure her I am as I carefully remove the small hook from the fat part of my cheek right next to my nose.

The guide wades over; he makes sure I'm all right. Then he says, "Watch," as he casts a few times. He takes my arm, shows me the motion. I repeat it and the casts are much better—towards the water and not my face. I fish a couple hours.

My casts are a little more fluid but far from good. This "simple" casting movement takes a lot of practice, skill and touch. I get that now. Experience is the best, though at times a painful, teacher.

What's this have to do with workplace learning, particularly on topics where leadership skill and communication are involved? Everything.

Wouldn't it be great if we could teach everyone all they needed to know about compliance topics in a single class—whether delivered in person or online—and then move on to the next subject knowing all would be fine?

That drill surely doesn't work with fly fishing. You need someone to show you the basics. Seeing it all just once isn't enough if you want to master the skill. And, you've got to practice, or what you've learned won't be remembered.

The same is true when it comes to building compliance and related leadership skills. Learning how to encourage people to speak up, knowing when there's a problem and how to act involves not just receiving information, but also skill, reinforcement and practice.

As for me, I'll fish again. Next time, I'll review what I've learned before I hit the stream. I may or may not catch a fish, but at least I'll be casting in the right direction, and the hook won't snare my face. Fail to properly make sure compliance learning isn't effective and doesn't stick and there may be no second chances.

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