Who’s Going to Catch the Fish?

fisherman fishing

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts a few weeks ago (for my fellow amateur real estate investors out there check out “Bigger Pockets”), and I heard something so profound it stuck with me.

“There are those who catch fish and those who rely on those who catch fish.”

The simplicity is beautiful, and the analogy is so easily paralleled into every industry, ours specifically.

So, as those who know me well will can attest to, I’m going to beat this analogy to death. And, as I typically do, I’m going to stir up some controversy among my many friends, acquaintances and colleagues who are all doing awesome things, but aren’t catching fish.

Hopefully, I’ve earned enough street cred having spent time as an engineer, operations guy and ops leader to soften the landing of this statement:

Nothing happens until someone catches a fish.

I’ll let it sit and marinate for a few moments …

Many will rightfully say that the fisherperson needs a hook, a pole and bait. They need a team of support to get the fish to market and onto the customer’s plate. I agree, the fish-catcher doesn’t stand alone. The entire team is needed to get the fish to the end user.

But, when we strip everything else out, they, and they alone, are responsible for catching the fish. Everyone behind them is reliant on someone else upstream in the chain. Without the fish, no one else has anything to do.

Think about it: The person who cleans the fish, the delivery truck that brings the fish to market, the person who sells the fish to the restaurant, the fishmonger who butchers the fish, the chef who cooks the fish, the server who brings the fish to the table. Everyone is reliant on the people before them.

The irony of being in a leadership role is that my job is to help coach and enable those who catch fish; help with strategy (where to go fishing), positioning (which lure to pick), feedback and learning (why did the fish break the line). I don’t catch fish, and I’m reliant on the team who does like everyone else in the company. Eventually, without the fish there’s no need for me either.

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Controversial bomb #2: The people who are great at catching fish are some of the rarest and most valuable people for a business.

This begs a simple question, why do many integrators want their most valuable people to be responsible for parts of cleaning, butchering, delivering and cooking the fish? Doesn’t it seem counterproductive to take your most valuable, important and critical assets and ask them to do things that are better handled by others?

Do you know what the best salespeople hate? Having to do anything but catch fish. Frustrate them enough, and they’ll take their talents across the street to your competitor. You’ll wax poetic about how they must have gotten a better offer, and about how salespeople are coin operated mercenaries that have no loyalty. That narrative is self-serving, they left because you created an environment that didn’t let them fish. That’s all they wanted to do, and ironically, that’s exactly what your business needs them to do.

For those who don’t catch fish, although reading this may give you the impression that I don’t think anyone but fish-catchers are important, that’s not the case. Every single role in the context of a business is important. Without the entire team the fish would never make it to the diner’s plate. If you are reliant on someone upstream of you doing something don’t sit around waiting. Find the way to “catch the fish” within the role you have. What can you proactively do right now to make something better within the context of your responsibilities?

Business owners and leaders, we need to stop giving our fish catchers non-fish-catching activities and responsibilities. We need them out there doing what they do best — catching fish. Everything else we do is dependent on it.