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Leading from the Middle: The FISH! Philosophy

There are many frameworks for leadership but one of my favorite is The FISH! Philosophy. It is a proven way to find joy and energy in our work. The FISH! Philosophy is inspired by a group of fishmongers from Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market. This team is a shining example of how you can create a culture and workplace that encourages people to flourish. Being a fishmonger is obviously hard work, despite the cold and harsh conditions, they have found a way to harness a positive attitude and have fun at work. Here is their story (cited from http://www.fishphilosophy.com/ The FISH! Philosophy® ChartHouse Learning Corporation):

Documentary filmmaker John Christensen was shopping in Seattle when he heard cheering in the distance. Curious, he followed the sound and encountered a crowd surrounding a small fish market—World Famous Pike Place Fish, to be exact. Suddenly a fishmonger fired a slippery salmon to a coworker, who made a spectacular one-handed catch as the crowd applauded. He invited a delighted customer to catch a fish.
The positive energy was electric.
The fishmongers greeted strangers like old friends. Despite the noise and bustle, when a fishmonger focused on serving a customer, it was as if they were the only two people in the world. Everyone was smiling—and buying lots of fish. John noticed that selling fish looked cold and exhausting, yet these fishmongers attacked their work with energy and engagement. He wondered, “How do they do it?”
“I want what these guys have.”
John brought a camera crew back to the market and spent several days with the fishmongers. When he and his team analyzed the footage, they identified four simple practices the fishmongers brought to their work that anyone could use to be successful.

How Does This Apply to Early Intervention?

As leaders in early intervention, we need to build effective teams. When a team lives these four simple practices, it builds trust, teamwork, appreciation and accountability—the foundation every team needs to excel:

1. Be There
Be emotionally present for people. It’s a powerful message of respect that improves communication and strengthens relationships.

  • When coaching caregivers and teaming with your colleagues, to “be there” is to be fully engaged in the moment, inviting opportunities and sharing the experience together.

2. Play
Tap into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind, as in “Let’s play with that idea!” You can bring this mindset to everything you do in your work with families and colleagues.

  • Play is not a specific game or activity. It is a state of mind that brings new energy to the tasks at hand and sparks creative solutions. Bring play into coaching and watch how innovative caregivers become in coming up with their own ideas and solutions.

3. Make Their Day
Find simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life—not because you want something, but because that’s the person you want to be.

  • If you find your energy lapsing, find someone who needs a helping hand, a word of support and a good ear- and make their day.
  • Hold a door, say “thank you”, ask about a person’s family or simply tell someone how much you appreciate them.
  • Use stories and memories to engage people.
  • Take a genuine interest in the unique gifts of others.
  • Make the effort to brighten someone’s day. Be the person you want to be.

4. Choose Your Attitude
Take responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Your choice affects others. Ask yourself: “Is my attitude helping my team or my clients? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?

  • There is always a choice about the way you do your work even if there is not a choice about the work itself.
  • Be aware of what your attitude is and how it affects you and others.
  • Once you are aware of the impact your attitude has on others, you may view your attitude differently, even if the situation or person that prompted the attitude hasn’t changed.

The FISH! Philosophy helps colleagues to create a Be There culture where people feel heard and supported. It reminds everyone to Make Their Day, so they can show colleagues and clients they are valued. It frees them to Play with new ideas and be themselves in a safe environment. And it helps people to be aware of their impact on others, understanding that to create the kind of day that leaves you fulfilled you have the power to Choose Your Attitude. Whether you are a service coordinator, a provider or a manager, leadership starts with YOU!

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Anne Brager is a Technical Assistance Consultant with the Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia. She can be reached at anne.brager@dbhds.virginia.gov.

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