I couldn’t believe it.  I was on the telephone calling to find out about a whitewater rafting trip for three comrades and myself. 

It was the moment to admit – I am afraid of WATER. 

OK, I am not afraid of water, but I am afraid of WATER above 4 feet – in a pool, in the ocean or on a river.   

So, how did I come to be on the phone making arrangements for a guided whitewater rafting trip where we would spend 6 hours on a river traversing Class IV (advanced) rated rapids?

You guessed it.  I wanted to be able to report back to the others that unfortunately, the whitewater rafting company would not allow anyone who could not swim to participate in a rafting trip.                                                                                           

Boy was I wrong. 

The cheerful voice on the other end or the call said: “It’s actually better if you can’t swim – because then you won’t do anything foolish like thinking you can swim in whitewater!”

Now I was stuck.  I had to go.  One of my comrades promised that he would not let anything happen to me; a promise that I wanted to be sure that he kept. 

So, that’s how I came to be in a raft on the Youghiogheny River with three comrades on a beautiful Saturday morning.

I have joined intact teams and been welcomed. I have been a part of inspired teams; turnaround teams; new teams; matrix teams; action learning teams; problem solving teams; innovation teams, leadership teams; virtual teams; sales teams; operations teams; etc.  The most exciting and excited teams are those that have a huge turnaround or innovation goal with a leader who is able to capture the minds and hearts of even the most average employees.

But back then, this whitewater rafting team felt unlike any other team that I had ever experienced.  This felt like a ‘life and death’ team experience to me.

The day started badly – not for our raft team – but for another team that capsized four times before lunch.  The last time they capsized, the raft flew up, flipped backward and landed on top of them – pinning them underWATER.

During lunch, one of the women from the team that capsized became hysterical and refused to get back into the raft.  My comrades made sure that I was well away from her so that I wouldn’t have time to think about the fact that I could still die!

As we set off after lunch, one of my comrades asked us to stop paddling, except for our chosen team captain. When we stopped paddling, we noticed:

  • Our captain (who was very tall and athletic) had superior talents.                                 
  • He had large feet and he was wedged nicely in the back of the raft; he was well-positioned to paddle on either side of the raft as necessary.
  • In the roughest rapids, he paddled with one hand and held onto me by the scruff of my neck (and lifejacket) with the other.
  • He used his body as a ‘gyroscope’ and single-handedly maintained the raft’s equilibrium and determined our speed and direction.
  • He had a care for the team members and assigned us to the roles that best suited our skill sets.  For example, our captain asked a team member who had experience with rafting to sit in the front of the raft and to be the team lookout and troubleshooter.
  • After the captain got us through the first two roughest whitewater legs of the trip, he let me know that I was pulling my weight and that I was a valued team member. 

Even if we did only a minimal amount of paddling, our captain had the right competencies for the job.  He understood our strengths (and weaknesses); he possessed an inspirational leadership style; he was a strategic thinker and used that skill to position the team members to utilize our best talents.  He was able to pilot and paddle, anticipate the turbulent times, watch over the team and ensure that we stayed on track.  

At the end of the trip, we ‘Whooped’, ‘Hollered’, ‘Bumped Fists’ and threw our hats in the air -telling each other how great we were.  What’s truly interesting about that trip – now, I don’t remember my fears.  I just remember the accomplishment. 

Questions for you to consider:

  • Could your team identify your unique leadership competencies and the value you bring?
  • How are you ‘positioned’ to meet the turbulence ahead?

© All rights reserved.

Christine M. Glasco consults to company executives, business owners and non-profit leaders on career management/career transformation strategies and strategic leadership development solutions. To provide you with clarity on how to achieve the next steps in your career, go to www.christineglasco.com and request a complimentary copy of Is Your Career on Track? Assessment and e-Workbook

Email: info@christineglasco.com Phone: 1.940.367.0837

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One Response to Talented Leaders Perform Best When “Piloting” Through Turbulent Waters

  1. […] in non-profit, entrepreneurial, private company and corporate settings – have a wide array of leadership competencies; they have an internal code of ethics as well as a company code, they take  pride in their […]

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