Five leadership lessons from the whitewater rapids of Snake River

A week ago I had the opportunity to kayak on the rapids of the Snake River in Wyoming. It was an exhilarating experience I was fortunate enough to share with my sons. We hired a guide, Libby, who provided us with the equipment and basic instruction we needed and then she led us down the river and through the rapids.

Upon reflection there were five things that Libby did that day that marketing leaders could emulate when guiding their teams through the turbulent waters of this economy.

  1. She had a plan that she clearly communicated to us: Before any difficult stretch of water she would would call for a huddle in a calm part of the river and reiterate the plan. We never proceeded until everyone was clear about what was expected of each of us.
  2. She was realistic about what we should expect: There were some rapids where she warned us there would less than a 50% chance of making it through without get tossed out of the boat. We willingly entered those sections with a full understanding of the difficulty. When we did get overturned, and we frequently did, there was no complaining or finger pointing, merely an acceptance of our fate and a determination to try harder next time.
  3. She helped us back into our boats when we got dumped: There was no chastising or criticism. But there was an outstretched arm, a word of encouragement and a simple tip that would help us improve.
  4. She only asked us to do what we could reasonably do, yet challenged us: There were some parts of the river that simply were not safe for adventurers with our limited capabilities. She didn’t expect us to do what we were not capable of doing. In the extremely dangerous rapids she would show us a safe route that we could navigate. Some risks simply were not worth taking. But she was good at assessing which ones were reasonable and encouraged us to try things that challenged us.
  5. She took time out to help us recover and celebrate: Paddling through rough water can be exhausting. So she had us pause for a few minutes occasionally to watch an eagle chase a hawk or to have a snack on a sandy beach. We would high-five each other when we successfully made it through a rapid or kindly harass the one who didn’t. Most of all, our guide made the challenging journey fun.

If your team is feeling a bit jostled from the turbulent waters of today’s economy, try a few of Libby’s approaches for guiding kayakers through the rapids. She got us through successfully, and that is what your team is looking for you to do for them. Paddle on!