A Fisherman’s Guide to Deep Leadership Waters

fisherman's leadership

Leadership in the storm


Imagine you’re on a boat.

The sky is overcast and the waves are picking up. Your hand’s on the wheel…and the crew’s eyes are on you. It’s decision time. This isn’t just another day on the water—it’s a moment that defines who you are as a leader.

Oleg Konovalov’s vision of leadership doesn’t come from textbooks. It’s born from the icy spray of the North Atlantic, where nature’s lessons are often unforgiving. It’s often in the quiet moments that leaders are built. But it’s in the stormy ones they are revealed. Oleg’s journey from the deck of a fishing trawler to the forefront of leadership is a tale of transformation. It’s about becoming a part of the environment you’re in, the seamless blend of person and place.



When a sudden storm hits, the experienced fisherman doesn’t see an obstacle—he sees an opportunity to adapt and conquer. Leadership, Oleg argues, is similar. When your company hits rough waters, it’s the calm, collected response that steadies the ship.



In this interview, you’ll discover why the crew on a trawler might just be the perfect analogy for your next team-building session.

How does trust work when a life is literally on the line? What does it mean to truly understand your team, to the point where you can anticipate needs and navigate challenges with the confidence of a seasoned skipper?


The Fisherman’s Path to Leadership

Oleg Konovalov is a thought leader, author, business educator, consultant, and globally recognized expert on leadership who has been named as the ‘Da Vinci of Visionary Leadership’. He has written several books, including The Vision Code and is known for his work on corporate vision and leadership, speaking to companies and conferences around the world.

After reading his latest book, The Fisherman’s Path to Leadership: 224 Lessons from the Wisdom of Nature, I reached out to talk more about the concepts.


Fishing and leadership often involve navigating through storms. Can you share a time when your leadership was tested by a ‘storm,’ and what you learned from that experience?

We all know about seasickness. Only a few people don’t have it. This is normal for all humans, to a greater or lesser extent. The only difference is that the experienced know how to adapt faster.

Psychologically, if you are afraid that you will get seasick, you will feel sick. Therefore, take it easy, and keep doing your job.

First, I felt sick when facing a force-five storm while working on a fishing trawler. Soon, I adapted to a force-seven storm and felt okay. Then I faced something truly fierce and violent – a force-eleven storm. The small trawler was fighting against 10-16-meter-high waves that could crush everything. My stomach was somewhere in my throat, my brain begged for a few seconds of stability and calmness, and my body wasn’t mine.

Yet, before long, I realized something – I enjoyed storms. After the force-eleven, I loved standing on the deck feeling like I was surfing. I realized that by growing through the storms I become the storm myself.

As a leader, I learned:

– Be a storm yourself that is stronger than forthcoming challenges.

– No storm lasts forever.

– Psychological strength is key for any leader.

– Growth is associated with enhanced psychological ability. You are either a leader who stands firm and does what must be done regardless of circumstances or you give up and let others fail.




You’ve beautifully connected the natural world with leadership lessons. How can leaders better listen to and learn from their environments?

Success in fishing comes when you become a part of nature, not a mere visitor. Success with people comes when you are a part of them and create value for them every day. Casting for fish we are revealing ourselves and learning about life and leadership where every cast is not into the water but into the core of ourselves.

Every fishing trip is transformational. Every leadership task is transformational. Every interaction with nature, every interaction with people, every challenge, and every moment of exploring something new is a moment of transformation if we are prepared to open our minds and hearts. Fishing is about discovering a miracle in nature, in life, and in people.

Whether in fishing or leadership, mastery is defined by the ability to learn, unlearn, and learn again. If you can’t do this, then don’t try to pretend. Being a leader is not a rank or position. This is a credit from people that is due every day. Learn how to repay it with the most value for people.

Fishing is a labor of love. Leadership is a labor of love. Love and care are my tackle to catch people’s hearts and minds.



In the book, you discuss the importance of the crew on a trawler. How does this translate to building effective teams in the business world?

At sea, everyone is at risk, and we aim to diminish the risk for each other. We watch out and care for each other. There are many cases where one individual fell overboard into the cold North Atlantic water having mere minutes to survive and his mates did everything possible including jumping in after him and saving his life by risking their own.

Work on deep-sea trawlers is defined by roles, not job descriptions. We all have core duties and are responsible for everything we do on board and for others. This is about recognizing the holistic nature of what we do together and mutual dependency.

In leadership, the role defines how people support each other and allows them to realize the impact of their work on others – colleagues, customers, and the organization as a whole. A job description is necessary, but it can restrict an employee’s vision of the inner life of an organization as one single body.

A job description puts an employee into some kind of box and is isolated from others. Understanding one’s role allows a person to see beyond their desk to the organization as a whole.

Whilst creating a vision for a business, a leader must envision the role of everyone in a team. Vision is successfully executed by everyone working together, not by individuals defending their ground. Success is achievable when you have an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude.


Fishing requires patience and a deep understanding of the fish you’re trying to catch. How can leaders cultivate patience and understanding within their organizations?

Success in salmon fishing is based on reverse engineering logic – what do fish want? We see a beautiful fly. Not whether the fish sees an insect, or something attractive or threatening in their understanding and grabs a fly or not. I was spooking the fish instead of motivating it to take the fly.

True leadership and visionary leadership are based on the same reverse engineering. Many leaders tend to ignore what is important for people, or what they see as valuable, what makes them engaged, and what truly inspires them. This is all about the value created for people, not for a leader or how a leader sees things. The same about customers. Without understanding people’s needs your business will fail.

This is about stimulus and response to it. Stimulus is what we offer people as valuable. Whose pain do you want to solve? What is the value for people in your vision? How does it answer people’s deep desires?

Like in fishing, where salmon ignore the wrong fly, a stimulus without response is just a stimulus. People won’t respond to something not good for them. The value of stimulus defines how promptly people respond to it. If it is valuable for them, they respond promptly. If not, your stimulus is left ignored.

A visionary leader sees what others don’t see. However, a leader must see what and how people see, otherwise they are disconnected from them. To what extent a leader understands people and their needs defines their level of leadership.



You mention the concept of being ‘the storm’ oneself. Can you elaborate on how leaders can embody this idea to inspire and drive their teams?

Success is a port you can only reach through the storm. This rough passage demands two key elements – the ability to grow beyond our fears and limitations and the ability to change and adapt to fast-changing realities. This is an essential ability to become a true leader.

Every challenge we face is a storm that tests our abilities. Courage to face the storm is a skill that develops with experience. It doesn’t make you fearless but makes you experienced.

The leader is responsible for leading people into the future. A leader defines a vision that is much greater than themselves and the organization. No one can lead something so huge without the ability to grow and change. If a leader fails to conduct their duty, the team will fail.

If you can challenge yourself, you can withstand any storm.

Courage to face the storm is a skill that develops with experience. It doesn’t make you fearless but makes you experienced. The change will be painful. The growth is rewarded.



Loss and the act of letting go seem to be significant themes. How should leaders deal with loss or failure within their teams or projects?

A fisherman uses skills and tackle, salmon use imprinted reflexes and phenomenal ability to resist. The fish is a fighter that never gives up. No wonder the number of bites is never equal to the number of salmon landed.

Every salmon fisherman knows how it feels to lose a fish. This is not a loss; this is a tragedy. I’ve lost many fish, as well as an endless number of flies, and snapped lines are uncountable, in addition to a few broken rods.

Yet, fighting strong fish is the reason why we are hooked on salmon fishing. Those who seek an easy and pleasant life choose to have fish tanks at home.

Relax, keep calm, and keep fishing. Your fish will take your fly.

The same in leadership. For some, a loss is like a verdict. For others, it’s a signal to work more. You either accept failure or buckle down and learn how not to fail the next time.

Facing losses I have learned:

–        Neither life nor circumstances can break you if you are not prepared to give up. You define when the final whistle will sound, no one else.

–        A loss is never final. Opportunity is never single or a one-off. Persistence always pays off.

–        Willpower to continue is when fate kicks you and breaks its own leg.

–        Respect and appreciate your losses as great coaches for further success.




The notion of ‘SOS’ in leadership was fascinating. Could you explain how leaders can recognize when it’s truly time to signal for help?

A leader is a dealer of confidence. Leaders are always in demand as people need them and their unique qualities to complement and develop their own. People need a CEO, not a CTO (Chief Trouble Officer).

Save Our Souls (SOS) is a well-known, internationally recognized distress signal when the risk of loss of life is high. Before pressing this red button, think of SOS as ‘Sink Or Swim’. This is about what else you, as a captain, and your crew can do to find a solution.

I had a few ‘SOS’ events in business facing the risk of losing everything. The first reaction is to do what I can. Then the most challenging and dangerous phase comes – panic and helplessness. This is the most dangerous stage where you want to press the ‘SOS’ button screaming for any help. Panic blocks consciousness.

Think before pressing the red button. Is it about true distress or is panic making me thoughtless? As soon as I calmly analyzed this, I found that it is not my business in distress, but myself.

In leadership, the ‘SOS’ signal is to be used only when you realistically see a need for it, not when panicking without thinking calmly. Stay calm and confident and the solution will come.

If a leader is confident and calm, employees are calm and confident as well. Panic within a team when in distress is more devastating than the challenge itself. Take care of the trouble-spreaders. Let people calm down and set them to act meaningfully.


Your stories convey the power of simplicity and focus. In an age of constant distraction, how can leaders maintain focus on what truly matters?

Focus is like a fishing line that connects us with the fish, it directly connects us to what we aim to achieve. Focus is a tool that makes the distance to success shorter and more achievable.

When we lose focus, we lose connection, we lose thought, and we lose energy for doing important things. We lose ourselves. By losing focus, we are consciously or unconsciously making success harder to achieve.

Being focused is putting your strengths forward. Being focused means making rational use of resources for the achievement of this goal. Lack of focus means putting your blind spots forward. Lack of focus leads to only one scenario – failure.

In leadership, the focus is a central point of attention that pulls the effort of all involved in execution together and defines the deliverables. It must be appealing to all to maintain the will to execute. The leader’s role is to maintain the team’s focus.

If a leader promises people that they will achieve something great, then they have to help them stay focused on it. In turn, people will be focused on a vision and exercise a strong will to make it a reality if they see these qualities in their leader.

Those with a strong focus and a will to win become winners, those without focus and a will to win have already lost. Think pragmatically about how much a loss of focus costs you and your business, in monetary terms. Don’t be shocked when you see those digits.



Trust is a recurring theme, particularly in the harsh and unpredictable environment of the sea. How can leaders build and maintain trust within their teams, especially during challenging times?

Great teamwork is about the ultimate level of trust where we are prepared to put our lives in someone else’s hands. At sea, everyone is at risk, and we aim to diminish the risk for each other. We watch out and care for each other.

This is about recognizing the holistic nature of what we do together, mutual dependency, and trust.

A leader is a model of trust. Trust in a leader is defined by his confidence. Confidence in inevitable success brings calmness and effectiveness in achieving goals. If a leader is not confident in what they are doing, then employees will be even less so. If a leader is confident and calm, employees are calm and confident as well.


You said that your grandfather instilled a love of fishing in you at age 5. In his honor, tell us more about him and the influence he had on your life.

My grandfather infused me with a love of fishing when I was five. He was a decorated WWII veteran who lost both legs yet worked hard at his felt boots workshop. He loved two things unconditionally – family and fishing. I remember him fully focused on a float waiting for a fish to take it.

He never shared war stories but said to me once – ‘War memories make me feel a breath of death. Fishing makes me feel alive and connected to God.’


Learn more: The Fisherman’s Path to Leadership: 224 Lessons from the Wisdom of Nature.





Image Credit: Isabela Kronemberger

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