Photo: Donald Stone


The Inertia

What do you get when you combine ten successful business executives with the challenge of learning how to surf in one week? A shift in perspective. Powerful and successful people experiencing vulnerability. Personal growth.

That’s the most efficient way to describe LeaderSurf, a program that creates a diverse learning community for business men and women looking to strengthen their leadership skills. The program was created by Brian Formato, an organizational development and leadership development expert who believes that people learn best when they are in a foreign environment. So LeaderSurf takes ten business execs to Nicaragua for a week to teach them how to be better leaders through surfing.

“It’s like a field trip for experienced learners,” Formato said.

The program is jam packed with leadership exercises, discussions and one on one coaching sessions with Formato, which doesn’t leave too much time for lounging by the pool with a cocktail. It’s a requirement that each participant is a complete stranger to the rest of the group. Formato believes that tactic encourages people to get even further out of their comfort zone, creating an environment for sharing ideas, perspectives, and strategies to deal with conflict. Interactions with all these people from different backgrounds and industries encourage a unique concoction of ideas, according to Formato.

“When you take people that don’t know each other and tell them part of their learning is doing something they have never done before, there is support for one another, there is a willingness to try new things because everybody is in the same boat. The risks that you are taking, you are taking with others,” Formato said.

Constant support and devotion to others is something that is common at LeaderSurf, as strangers become friends quickly. Especially in the water.

“After they catch their first wave, they get back out there, the first thing they do is high five someone they just met. That creates a bond and friendship that can last a lifetime.”

Surfing proves difficult for many at first, just as learning any new skill would be. The businessmen and women soon realize that surfing takes heaps of patience and perseverance. Going through this test of trial and error had lasting impacts even past their week away.

“People gain a lot of self-confidence,” Formato says. “When they go back to their work world they are less shy, less afraid to take risks, as a result, it has improved their business results, it’s improved their personal lives. People are afraid of embarrassing themselves or looking foolish, but that’s what it takes to overcome adversity and as a result, build further confidence in yourself.”

Surfing and the patience it requires serves as a life metaphor for the executives. There are powerful learning lessons each day about oneself, how to motivate and inspire others and how to leverage conflict as a powerful decision-making tool. In addition, the community of people that are excited to learn and communicate provides a group that fosters and allows ideas to grow, all while enjoying beauty and unpredictability of nature.

In addition to creating more diverse and established leaders, LeaderSurf takes part in local humanitarian work to benefit the community of Playa Santa, Nicaragua. Over the past three sessions of retreats, LeaderSurf has installed over 30 water filters that each provide 100 gallons of clean drinking water a day to the local communities. Formato wants to give back to the community that so graciously hosts them.

Donald Stone

“The best leaders are selfless leaders,” Formato said. “They don’t put themselves first, they put others first. This humanitarian component promotes servant leadership. It’s a selfless act, not a selfish act and it helps to model that behavior.”

Note: LeaderSurf’s next session is scheduled for November 2017. You can learn more about the program online here.



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