Quiet Leadership – Night Swimming

Ian nightswimming

“Nightswimming deserves a quiet night” ~ REM

Leadership takes many forms, yet common to any style is the adage that “it is about what you do, not what you say”. For those who model quiet leadership, it is absolutely in what they do, not what they say.

This photo from five years ago evokes a personal story that speaks to the power of quiet leadership.

So, in October 2013, the Stingray Swim Club in the Cayman Islands ran a “swimathon” to raise funds for the club. In the way this was designed, it was also about each swimmer stepping up to play their part to support the club that supports them, first by raising sponsorship money and then by swimming 100 laps of the pool.

Now, at that time, a certain male swimmer was 16 and among the oldest in the club squad, so what they would call a “senior”. Even today, at 21, he is quiet, never outspoken, almost always calm, listening, considering what other say before speaking.

The evening of the swimathon was vibrant and buoyant, as excited swimmers of all ages got in the pool in the late afternoon sun. They swam, several to each lane, marking off their 100 laps. Each lane had one or two volunteers counting and marking down lap counts.

At one end of the pool, a DJ had music blaring to motivate the swimmers as the parents were getting food and drink ready to celebrate the efforts later.

After nearly an hour or so, gradually the swimmers, one by one, the most senior and fastest first, finished their 100 laps . As they finished, they got out of the pool, dried off, then took food and drink and started chatting amongst themselves.

Quite soon the activity in the pool lessened and more and more were out of the pool and the happy noise of conversation at the edge of the pool grew and grew as the party built.

Hardly noticed by anyone, whose backs were by now turned from the pool to the food and conversation, that 16 year old senior, who in fact had been the first to complete his 100 laps, was still swimming. Lap after lap, he kept swimming.

Eventually all the younger and slower swimmers finished their laps and then there was only one swimmer left in the pool , and yet he kept swimming, up and down as if a metronome.

Then a magical moment happened. The DJ found the right track for the moment. Nightswimming, by REM. A beautiful song, richly contemplative with a sense of being present to the moment.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night

I took that photo at that point. You see, I was the lap counter in that lane and so the only lap counter left on duty, as I still had that one swimmer in my lane.

I did not turn around to the partying crowd, but my sense was that, with the music changed they all gradually turned and paid notice to what was happening. Now, they did not feel the need, nor was there any need to cheer the swimmer. No need, that swimmer was quietly swimming, absolutely in their own zone. They just kept swimming.

Eventually, the swimmer quietly stopped, they felt they had done enough. They had in fact been keeping count of their laps and when they reached 160 laps, they decided that was sufficient.

I said that the swimathon was about the swimmers supporting the club. This swimmer certainly swam his 160 laps and raised a lot of money, but he also did more than that. He evoked quiet leadership. He showed his fellow swimmers that they could raise their expectations of themselves. They were told to do 100, yet nobody told them they could not do more. Only one swimmer did more laps stopping at 160. He didn’t talk about it afterwards, not one word.

Quiet leadership is about what you do, not what you say.

Oh, who was that quiet leader? My son. Iain.

Heck, I’m crying writing this. A special moment in time for a father and his son.