What Fishkeeping Can Teach You About Leadership, Really


Leadership and management


Owning an aquarium is more like running a business than you might think, from talent management to company culture. Here’s what fishkeeping can teach you about leadership, really.

A fish tank is effectively a micro world where you create a nurture everything within to make it successful, not unlike a leader creating and nurturing a team.

The right culture fit

aquariums and leadershipYou can’t mix a piranha with a guppy, it just doesn’t work. A piranha will devour pretty much anything else in its way and simply isn’t compatible in an aquarium with differing types of fish.

Similarly, within your workforce, when hiring new talent you need to make sure that they’ll fit into your existing company culture.
Certain recruitment and onboarding processes can help you to ascertain the cultural fit of applicants.
For example, Zappo’s invite prospective candidates to company lunches and assess how they interact with existing colleagues, making sure that new employees will integrate successfully with the rest of the business.

Hiring a candidate who doesn’t fit with how your company and employees work will often result in an unhappy employee, who’ll probably leave the business in favour of employment elsewhere.
An unhappy employee is less productive, therefore reducing their return on investment, but if they leave, it’ll also mean further recruitment expenditure, not to mention repeating the onboarding process.

Create and maintain the right environment

Tropical fish require warm clean water – without these two basic, yet essential, factors they’ll not survive for long.
Within your business it’s important to get the basics right when it comes to creating a productive and healthy environment. Among the elements that should be a given are:

  • The right tools to do the job are provided
  • Healthy seating and lighting
  • Procedures in place to ensure everyone knows how things work

It doesn’t matter if you offer fancy benefits that we all hear about online, if you haven’t got the basics sorted out then it’s game over, floating on the surface (figuratively speaking of course!).

Nurture growth through experience

learning leadershipNo one knows it all from the beginning, mixing the wrong fish that subsequently fight or buying the wrong plant that just shrivels and dies are just two examples. Mistakes are made and solutions found.
Learning and improving how you operate as a business leader is key to succeeding and creating a happy workforce.

Getting to know employees allows you to utilise their strengths, learn what motivates them and get the most from individuals as opposed to treating them as one resource and letting them get on with it. If you don’t know your employees on a personal level, then how will you know if a new recruit will be a good fit?

Learn to spot problems and how to treat them

Spotting and avoiding potential problems is key to a happy and healthy environment both underwater and in an office environment. If you’re aware of an issue unfolding, then deal with it before is escalates, as the saying goes “a stitch in time save 9 “.

There are a few things you can do as a leader to ensure that if a problem’s brewing you’ll have a good chance of knowing about it, these include:

  • Earning the trust of your workforce
  • Asking for feedback and listening to employees
  • Mixing with employees on a daily basis (no ivory towers in fish tanks!)
  • Making it easy for employees to communicate with you and anyone else in the business

Utilise expertise

Tropical fish not only come in many different shapes, colours and sizes, but also specialise in just as many areas. Some clean the glass, others the gravel. Some swim at the top of the tank, others the bottom.
Knowing your employee’s strengths will enable you to make sure that the right individual(s) are chosen for certain tasks.

Knowledge of your employee’s potential weaknesses also enables you to arrange for the appropriate training in order to reduce skills gaps within the workforce.