Leadership Lessons From Wicked Tuna

Leadership Lessons From Wicked Tuna

by elainesuess

I don’t watch television very often, but when I do it’s more channel flipping than anything. Recently, the “dial” landed on the show Wicked Tuna.

I know, but it’s on the National Geographic channel so it must be interesting. Plus, I had questions:  1. How big are the tuna? (they’re much bigger than what’s in my StarKist can) 2. How much will they weigh? (some can be almost 500 lbs!) 3. What struggles will the crew go through? (big waves, disagreements, broken windows)

The Show

Here’s what happens on the show, and why this is but one of many leadership lessons from the Wickedest of all Tuna.

There are multiple teams competing with one another for the biggest and the most tuna. They go on the hunt for the fish, each team brings the tuna in to be weighed, a buyer checks the tuna for quality and then the buyer offers a price for the catch. Sounds simple right? It is, but the crew hangs on edge as they wait for the buyer to give them a price for the catch. There’s a moment of silence when everyone waits for the price, and then there’s usually celebration. 

Wicked Tuna At Work

Why tuna, and how does this relate to your work?

During your day, challenges often arise that feel as if they will lead to difficult conversations. Some individuals are courageous and skilled at addressing these concerns head on. Others are less so, but if  you’ve decided to embrace the 24-hour rule from my July post and are trying to resolve an issue, you can learn from the approaches of the teams on Wicked Tuna.

When one particular team waited for a response from the buyer, the captain of the team filled what should have been a period of silence to wait for the payoff with what I will call beseeching. The captain shared how hard they had worked for the catch, how much they deserved a good price, and so on.  The team was trying to convince when they should have remained silent to let their work and the moment carry them.The buyer responded with what seemed to be a low price.

Another team had a great tuna, presented the catch and simply waited with bated breath for a price and was rewarded for their work.

Know When To Advocate and When To Listen

I’m no tuna aficionado, but I’m pretty sure that if the first crew had waited patiently for “the reveal,” without trying to convince the buyer of the tuna’s worth,  the price would have come out higher.

When you’re engaging with a colleague, peer or stakeholder around an uncomfortable issue or conflict, the first Tuna approach is not likely to help.

Use your skills of inquiry and listening

Instead, use your skills of inquiry (e.g., what would you like the outcome to be, how could we both “win” in this situation, what would be the best outcome for the company, what if we tried this approach first and change it if it doesn’t work…) and listening. Get comfortable with silence in the midst of dialogue. Moments of “rest” allow individuals to process the converstation and respond in thoughtful ways, not in emotional ways that could hijack the best outcome.

Being proactive, being patient and inquiring vs. advocating win the day. And that’s the best catch of all.


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