Lessons from Baywatch senior

Why Surf Life Saving leadership lessons from my Silver Medallion beach management course reflect my life

Last weekend I spent a day and a half in a classroom at Freshwater beach surf life saving club with 40 others to upgrade my Bronze Medallion to a Silver medallion beach management qualification. It means that after patrolling the beach as a volunteer lifeguard for the last eight years, I will be able to assist my patrol captain as second in command and hold responsibility for the beach when and if she has to leave.

It still tickles me as a London born girl that I life save at an Australian beach – not many large waves on the Thames and fewer round our English coastline. Yet, however strong I am as a swimmer – I swum for my school as a teenager back in the UK – there is nothing quite as terrifying for me as dealing with the strength, consequences of the rips, tides and surf at our Aussie beaches. After a near drowning incident in 2005, when I was in trouble only eight minutes after leaving the beach (in good conditions and as a strong swimmer) I decided I should be more respectful of how to navigate the waves. And yes I get all the jokes about being Baywatch senior.

Volunteer life saving motivates me to keep fit, facilitates deep friendships, gives back to the community and allows me the excuse to stare out to sea and study our staggeringly beautiful water at least once a month. There are over 158,806 members in Australia and since its inception in 1907 has been responsible for saving over 600,000 lives.

The lessons from our surf life saving lecturers at the weekend ran parallel with the drivers my GM and I are experiencing at work. Leadership traits are universal. But managing a beach with up to 5000 visitors is an acute and nerve wracking reminder of the consequences of poor or great leadership. At work, I could lose an account or miss out on a pitch. At the beach, someone could drown – in seconds.

So what was taught at the weekend? These takeaways reflect life at work. They also reflect leading a team:

• Brief the team before you start on a project or a task or before you start your patrol duty at the beach

• Pull them together and go through the market conditions or the layout of the land – the rips, the threats, possible scenarios, what could happen? Are you all prepared?

• Know the skills of your team – who’s the IRB driver, who’s advanced resuscitation, who are your strong board riders, who is good with the inflatable tube, who is your swimmer, who will direct the ambulance – who has the radio?

• Delegate, eyeball and confirm that in an emergency – each member of the team knows their task, knows their role. They can tell you – ‘boomerang’ back what is expected of them. To hesitate in their role could be the difference between life and death

• Then place the team into those roles they are strong in and The roles they have agreed to take on.

• Make a note of who needs more training – who needs more attention

• Then watch the EQ and wellbeing of the team – is someone down or off colour? What could impede their ability to act quickly – take them aside, talk to them, help to put them back on track.

• Watch their physical wellbeing – take reasonable breaks, don’t over work

• Respect each other

• Keep the team spirit high and stop boredom or exhaustion setting in by communicating & checking in constantly throughout the project or the patrol

• Watch for changing conditions – has the market place or the tide changed? Do you need to re-position the flags and re-brief, re- calibrate your team

• Watch and calculate the risks as you go – is there a big party just arrived on the beach, young children wandering off? Where could there be trouble or danger

• And whatever happens as Patrol Captain, don’t leave your post even in an emergency. Stay in control, in command and delegate the management of your project or the responsibility of the beach. As in business, SLS Australia is liable for legal action or negligence.

• Then at the end of the day, de-brief, re-learn and reward.

Volunteer life laving works for me. Business and Australia’s surf are not for the faint hearted.

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