A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experience training for a dragon boat race at Castaic Lake, CA. and what leaders can learn on a dragon boat team. Today I’m happy to report that our dragon boat team, the Pink Paddlers, took the bronze medal in our division at the Castaic Lake Dragon Boat Festival! You may ask yourself if the Pinks were happy with their third-place finish – you bet we were! That may seem counterintuitive to some leaders who think finishing first is the only desired outcome worth having. Let’s explore that in this discussion.

I previously referenced the concept of a mastery orientation vs. a performance orientation. Essentially, leaders who approach a performance with a mastery orientation know what they really want and are concerned not about the outcome of a particular performance, instead focusing on what advances them toward what matters most in the long run. These leaders are seeking continuous improvement by looking inward to be their best selves and committing to both their own development as well as to the team’s growth and development.

So, here are the leadership lessons that I would like to share from the Castaic Lake race experience.


When practicing for the Lake Castaic race, the Pinks joined practices with Paddle eNVy, a team of dedicated and physically fit paddlers. As we practiced surrounded by our Paddle eNVy friends, we improved. Not only did we improve, we also felt more confident in our own abilities.
As leaders, we show up in different ways under different circumstances and we are influenced by how those around us are showing up. Surrounding ourselves with people from whom we can learn is essential to our own leadership growth.


So many things influence us every minute of every day and can drain us or take our focus away from what we are trying to accomplish. As a COR.E Leadership Dynamics Specialist (CDLS), I’m trained to help leaders recognize those influencers and use that knowledge to enhance performance. On that lake that day, the wind kicked up, knocking over tents and causing the water to churn a bit right before our first heat. That environmental factor was something we certainly couldn’t change. What we could do, and did, was to focus on the task at hand, rely on our training, and be in the moment by looking ahead and taking it one stroke at a time.

As leaders, there are often factors out of our control. What we can always control is our response to those influencers, whether they be outside of ourselves (like the wind), or the result of our own limiting beliefs.


OK, full transparency here – we came in fourth (last) in that first heat. :(  So, what did we do then? We learned from it. We listened to what some of the observers said about our late start. We hoped the wind would die down and knew it was out of our control. We resolved to improve on the next heat. We recognized we started a little later than the other boats because we weren’t quite ready when we reached the starting point, and we didn’t hear the start signal over the wind. That prompted our awesome drummer to get us focused and ready immediately when we reached the starting point for Heat 2.

As leaders, looking back has value IF it’s done in order to learn and apply those learnings. A great way to look back is to use a tool that focuses on the learnings and how to do it better next time. The process is sometimes called “Lessons Learned” or “After Action Review”. I’ve also heard it called “Post Mortem”, and suggest you try to stay away from that one, especially those leaders in the healthcare field! These tools help to frame a collaborative discussion to emphasize what went well over what went wrong. That keeps the team energized and engaged, focusing on continuous improvement.


So, the Pinks felt great after Heat 2, even though the outcome was 4th place again. We felt great because we applied those learnings from Heat 1, and because the wind died down! So, the environmental influencer was less draining, and we had a better start. We were surprised we didn’t place better because we felt we were in the groove. We also had some objective data to review, namely, a video of the race. We all looked at it and learned a few more things to apply to the last Heat. One of the main things we discussed was keeping focused on our boat and on the process that we were trained to follow, that is, a good race start, building momentum, and paddling full out to the finish.

Now you know we did really well in the 3rd Heat and won the bronze! What else contributed to this? One thing was the ceremony honoring breast cancer survivors that took place between the first and second Heat. I know that our spirits were lifted because of that moving ceremony and we all felt like winners before we even got in the boat for the next heat. That’s a lesson in understanding how much social and emotional influencers can have a positive effect on a team’s energy and performance. That’s what helps a team play full out.


With a mastery orientation, it makes perfect sense that the Pinks reveled in our third place “win”. We knew what we really wanted going into the race. We really wanted to give it our all and to be in sync with each other. We knew that we weren’t the strongest team on the lake physically. We knew we could count on each other and we knew we had to trust each other. Working with Paddle eNVy, we developed a step by step process that took us from the starting position through the entire race. We trusted that paddling process and executed it pretty well. Perhaps most importantly, we kept our focus on our own boat. It’s simply not possible to be in sync with the team on your boat if you are focused on the other boats around you. The best feeling at the end of the race was that we achieved our goal of being in sync, felt like we gave it our all, and had no idea if we came in first or last! We were all focused on our own boat. And there were our Paddle eNVy and other friends cheering us on at the finish!

As a COR.E Leadership Dynamics Specialist (CLDS), I can help you discover and execute your individual Success Formula to increase your confidence as a leader and drive your overall performance and satisfaction. As I have, you will learn what influences your success, and how to capitalize on those influencers, as well as how to direct your energy to what matters most to your success, in your career and in your life.

Contact me at cathyiocona@llvcoaching.com  to schedule a complementary 60 minute coaching session to see what COR.E Leadership Dynamics coaching can do for you.


* This piece contains my interpretation of the copyrighted work of Bruce D Schneider and the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).