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Beneath the Surface

In part 5 of a series about leadership lessons learned in the tropics, Patty Vogan compares scuba diving and running a business.

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I was living out my dream of running a business in Tonga when I realized that many of the lessons I'd learned about diving also applied to . In previous parts of this series, I've talked about packing up my life in a 20x20 container, narrowly escaping jail and finding my boat partially submerged in the harbor. Before starting to build my actual shop, I'd already learned quite a bit about being a business owner.

Even if you've never been diving, as an entrepreneur, you'll be able to relate to these lessons. After all, we're all fish in the same ocean.

1. Never stop breathing. This is key in scuba diving. I was well versed in the concept and was very comfortable underwater. What I didn't realize is just how important the concept is out of the water when it comes to running a business.

When many of us become stressed, we stop breathing correctly, which can interfere with how we handle stress and how we run our business. One way to get back on track is with a technique I call the "Two Minute Wonder." When life as an entrepreneur becomes overwhelming, stop and try this technique that I learned from the owner of the Tongan Beach Resort. It might seem simplistic, but it works.

Find a place to be alone and take some deep breaths. Concentrate on breathing out the stress and inhaling health and success. I actually lowered my and heart rate every time I did it. I figured that if it worked for the high-energy, constantly stressed German resort owner named Dieter, it had to work for me.

It was amazing. After the Two Minute Wonder, my brain was clearer, and I was able to make better business decisions. I could respond thoughtfully instead of reacting instantly based on emotion.

2. Swim with the current. In scuba diving, if you swim with the current, the entire dive is easy, relaxing and totally enjoyable. So many times as an entrepreneur, I felt like a salmon upstream. I was so focused on running my business my way that I wasn't open to going with the flow. Sometimes going with the flow would have made things much easier.

In Tonga, the local churches owned Sunday. Everything came to a halt. I wasn't allowed to take tourists on diving trips, a rule that I fought tooth and nail. The police even halted a Sunday game some of us expatriates were playing. After awhile, though, I realized that being open to change wasn't such a bad idea. The day forced me to take the time to relax. Look for the currents in your business that allow you to stop and enjoy the scenery--even if it's for a day.

3. Prepare your exit strategy. The term "drift diving" refers to when the boat drops you off at one end of the reef and you scuba dive to the other end--where the boat is waiting for you--by going with the current. In order for this to be a successful and relaxing dive for the dive master, he or she must coordinate with the boat captain ahead of time to be waiting at the end.

When you started, did you take the end into consideration? If you didn't, the good news is that it's not too late to start planning. What your boat looks like will depend on your industry, the market, supply and demand, your partners and a number of other factors. Maybe you know you want to end or sell your business in one, three or five years. Along the course, there will be navigational points that will help you better determine if your boat is on schedule.

To recap, your lessons for this month are:

1. Never stop breathing. Using your breath as a natural stress reducer can make you a better leader.
2. Swim with the current in your business. This will make entrepreneurship a much easier and more enjoyable ride.
3. Prepare for the next adventure. Have your boat waiting for you at the end of this ride.

Check back next month when I'll discuss trying to build a new dive shop with a broken cement mixer and will share my adventures involving high-voltage electricity.

Patty Vogan is's "Leadership" columnist and owner of Victory Coaching, an executive coaching company for business and personal success, and a chairman for the largest CEO organization in the world, TEC International.

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