Lessons from Fly Fishing on Cape Cod . . . Projectors and Receptors

The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.  ~Babylonian Proverb

If you have been following this blog the past week, then you know that my brother Don and I, along with two good fishing buddies, spent the week fishing for Striped Bass on Cape Cod.  The first three days were pretty much rained out, along with high winds and monster surf.  So, when I can’t really fish, I either head for a Martini or sit down at my laptop and post a blog.  Okay, so I did both!

Beware the fisherman with too much time to think and not enough time to fish, for he can really dream up some crazy notions.

After spending a week with four different guides (and thinking back to my numerous other guided fishing trips), I couldn’t help but notice how the personality of the individual guides impacted not only the fishing experience, but the fishing itself. And the more I watched, the more I began to see a recurring pattern.  I have classified their styles as either Projectors or Receptors.

To get a visual of what I mean by a “Projector” personality, think of a large movie projector that is constantly running, reel after reel after reel. It works, continuously.  There doesn’t seem to be an “off” switch in sight! Not only is it noisy (notice how most movie theatres have the sound cranked way up?), but it creates a lot of heat as well. And that heat is transferable to others and when molecules get hot, they get agitated.  Got the picture (and the analogy)?

Well, a guide with a “projector personality” seems to be always talking but rarely listening.  It seems that the ear mechanism has shrunk and the excess energy has been moved over to the mouth.  Not only don’t they listen, they don’t seem interested in understanding the particular expectations and desires of the client.  They have their set patter, and their set pattern of where to fish, how to fish, and how long to fish.  Like a continuous loop projector, they keep saying the same things over and over, going to the same spots over and over, and using the same techniques, over and over.

And they really don’t like it when a client tries to break the pattern. “The fish won’t go for that fly.  That technique won’t work.  Here, use one of my rods, it’s rigged up properly.”  The day got longer and longer and we were only saved by the fact that the fishing was fabulous and we could tune out the noise and the endless criticisms in the background.

Contrast that with the guide with a “receptor personality”.  To get an image of a receptor, think of a caricature of a person with giant ears and a small mouth.

“The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth and expects us to use them in that proportion!”  -a phrase I  heard regularly from my mother

The “receptor” guide asked open-ended questions and listened intently, understanding the unique idiosyncracies of his clients.  One was a left-hand caster, the other right-hand.  One had fished salt water extensively, the other sporadically.  Both were new to Cape Cod.  On and on the questions came, not aggressively or excessively, but measured, as one would play a large fish so as not to lose it.  After listening to our desires, concerns and expectations, the receptors built a game plan around us.  We fished two days in solid rain and wind with a “receptor personality” guide, and had an excellent time.  Even the wind seemed manageable as he worked with us to learn heavy wind casting techniques.  And I dare say he was enjoying himself as well.

At the end of the trip, our group ranked the guides.  To a person, the “projectors” came out on the bottom and the “receptors” on top, no matter what the fishing conditions.

A guide may cast like Lefty Kreh and know the water and the fish like the back of his hand, but how well does he understand his own personality and its impact on the fishing experience?

As I reread this blog I can’t help but reflect on the fact that these two personality types show up in the executive boardroom and on senior management teams as well.  And the experience for their employees is the same.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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4 Responses to Lessons from Fly Fishing on Cape Cod . . . Projectors and Receptors

  1. Steve Borek says:

    I’ve seen each style in both former bosses and now clients.

    In either case, I adapt my style to make them the most comfortable. Either way, in their eyes, I’m a better communicator because I’ve made a one degree change in how I interact with them.


    • Steve: thanks for the comment. You are correct, the best way to communicate with these people is to speak their language, get their attention, then slowly lead them to a more receptive place. Been fishing lately?

      John R Childress


      • Steve Borek says:

        Funny you ask.

        I’m not an avid fisherman like yourself.

        I own a 23 foot motor boat that hasn’t seen the water in four years. When I do go out on Oneida Lake here in the Syracuse area, I put a worm on the hook and hope for the best. Great lake for bass and walleye.

        I’ve heard fly fishing is the way to go.


      • It beats drowning worms ;>)


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