Everyday Leadership: Leaders must surround themselves with expertise

On a trip to Belize in February of 1999, my brother Jack and I decided to float the Mopan River. This river begins in Guatemala and flows across the middle of Belize to the Caribbean Sea at Belize City. We had floated the Macal River a couple of days before and had a great time.

We headed to San Ignatio to rent a canoe. There, we located a heavy fiberglass canoe that was not well made for white water or any flowing stream. For that matter, I can’t imagine it being successful for any body of water. However, it was the only canoe we could find. Finally, off we set with the huge canoe loaded on top of our rental vehicle. Unfortunately, the Belizian man, named Felize, who located the canoe for us, insisted on taking the trip with us. He was concerned with getting a tip and the canoe back.

The beauty of the Mopan River cutting its way through the rain forest was marred by trash washed down from Guatemala. Periodically, we saw local women washing their clothes in the polluted river by rubbing them on rocks as small children played at the water’s edge. The river had a stair step characteristic created by bedrock ledges over which it flowed. Still, it was an interesting float and a beautiful day. We stopped on the bank and shared our lunch with our new friend.

As we proceeded down the river, the bedrock ledges were consistently about one-half mile apart. After navigating one of the larger ledges into a deep pool, our heavy canoe took on so much water that it resembled a slowly diving submarine. We quickly gathered our floating belongings and then regrouped after we freed the canoe from some brush and overturned it to empty it. We were glad that we were not farther down the stream where crocodiles lived. The only lost item was Felize’s shoes that he had taken off and stashed in the bow of the canoe.

At about the halfway point of the float, we arrived at the largest drop in the river called Clarrisa Falls. This area had a series of rapids ending with a single gap dropping two and half feet. Given our experience earlier with the submarined canoe, we asked Felize to carry some of our gear down the bank while Jack and I tried to safely maneuver the drop. With Jack in the back, I guided the bow toward the v-shaped notch in the small cascade. We hit it perfectly taking on only a little water.

The size and skill set of the team is vital to its success. With only the two of us in the canoe, we easily succeeded on the worst rapid. Felize was one person too many for the task and the equipment we had at hand. He really did not know the river that well either. Jack could read it and make decisions superior to those of Felize. Usually, the guide is the leader on river trips. However, Jack soon took that role once Felize’s limited river knowledge was apparent. I trusted Jack completely. Leaders must staff teams adequately with the optimal number of participants who have the needed skills. Otherwise, the whole team could go down.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.