Ten Leadership Lessons from the River

river lessons

One of the things I love about spending time in Nature and outdoor activity is the wisdom I gain from the experiences.  On a recent river trip I found there’s nothing like kayaking through category 3+ rapids and having the river dump you out of your boat to be reminded of some key leadership lessons!  Using the river as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of challenges that you must navigate as a leader, here are 10 lessons in leadership:

  1. Be sure to wear your life jacket and have some skills before you enter the river. What will keep you from drowning when you fall in? We all need support.  Nobody does it alone.  Do you have a trusted coach or mentor? What is the quality of your relationships with your boss and your team? Are you prepared for the role you have taken on in the organization? If not, strengthen your relationships and skill up where needed.
  2. Have a map of the river from a trusted source that shows where the rapids are, and what category they will be. What’s your map?  Do you have clear business and marketing plans, and product strategy?  Do you have a trusted coach, consultant or leader in the business who has navigated the challenges you’re experiencing in your business?  Take advantage of experience and resources.
  3. Prepare Well. As you’re approaching a big rapid, beach the boats and take your team to scope it out. Get on the same page about what all the pitfalls and dangers are, and how to navigate through them successfully. Encourage and answer questions until everyone is grounded and ready. What is the best way through?  Who will take the lead?  Who will take up the rear to rescue anyone who gets into trouble? How far below the rapid will you regroup?  What are the questions you need to be asking in your business?  Where are the dangers in your coming month or year?  How high are the risks? Are they financial, personnel based, the competition? How will you navigate them? How’s your team doing?  Are they prepped and on the same page?
  4. When you’re in the rapids, keep your focus on what’s right in front of you. Things are happening so fast, if you lose your focus, you’ll get swamped or overturned, and it takes a lot of energy to recover and get back in the boat. It’s important to stay flexible and focused in challenging times of change when things are moving fast as the risks and consequences are higher.  If you do get thrown out of the boat, don’t panic.  Stay calm and focused on recovery, then take time for lessons learned and improve on your approach and processes for next time.  You’ll stay in the boat more, get faster and faster at recovery and will become better at preparing for the risks.
  5. Stay calm and confident no matter what’s happening, that will spread through your team. Once you’ve given instructions and everyone is prepped, let your team know that you believe in who they are, and in their skills and abilities. It makes a difference!
  6. Don’t let anyone kayak in a high category rapid who isn’t skilled up and ready for it. Make sure you have your people in the right positions for their skill level and create opportunities for those who are more skilled to mentor those who are in need of training and experience. Give your people growth opportunities and set them up for success.river mastery and leadership
  7. When you’re floating in the quiet part of the river, that’s the time to plan ahead. Don’t get lazy in the quiet times when everything is going well.  That’s the time to scope out the territory and the competition, plan and vision what’s next for the business, skill up the team and integrate lessons learned.
  8. Celebrate the successes and wins. Running a high risk rapid successfully is a big deal.  Be sure to celebrate.  Share the excitement and spread the acknowledgements.  It will build confidence and gel the team for what’s coming next.
  9. Get a good night’s sleep. Stress and fatigue will affect response times, clarity and decisiveness.  Make sure you practice good self care of mind, body and spirit.  Get your rest and eat well.
  10. Have fun. There is no better way to gel a team and retain your good people than some laughter and fun.  When we look to nature, all animals play to learn, grow and connect.  You can hold the focus as a leader and still laugh along the way.  All you have is now.  Make it count and enjoy it!

sabrina roblinSabrina Roblin is an experienced executive, mentor, trainer, and coach. She has worked for organizations that include Wells Fargo Bank, Broderbund Software, and The Coaches Training Institute. Contact her for coaching.

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