Leaders can gain from challenging themselves

I make a lot of phone calls each week to clients and potential clients. Recently, most of the people I called whether from South Carolina or Chicago expressed the same sentiment, “I can’t wait until this cold, nasty winter is over.”

Of course, we all know this has been one of the coldest winters in about 18 years. This was the first winter in that period that the Little Hocking River froze three times.

A couple of Saturdays ago in between freezings, I was able to get on the river in my canoe. The water was about four feet higher than normal with a steady but manageable flow. Downstream I went and then up a favorite tributary. The wind picked up unexpectedly and at times I had to give in and let the wind push me against the bank with its strong will.

I was greeted with dozens of wood ducks and mallards and around 50 Canada geese. Four great blue heron joined the exodus. Repeatedly as I rounded a curve in the stream a great commotion ensued. Slapping of wings and feet against water and a chaotic quacking and honking signaled the take off, which was culminated with a graceful landing a couple hundred feet upstream. Eventually they circled around to the water I had just navigated and I met them later on my way home. Occasionally, a red-tailed hawk could be seen calmly watching the excitement.

With the height of the water, I was able to cross the first riffle that usually stopped my progress upstream. It took a strong paddle to traverse each succeeding riffle, but with focus and determination, a paddle to the right and one to the left, I bested a number of them reaching the calm pools above. I crossed under a bridge that I had only accomplished a half dozen times in almost 30 years.

Finally, I chose one riffle to be my last. I could have beaten it but my energy was flagging and the hour was getting late. It was important to get home before dark and I had about three hours of canoeing to do so.

Even with fighting the wind and the rapid water flow, I enjoyed the day. I picked up a trash bag full of discarded pop bottles, beer cans and other unwanted items. I consider these trips my own monthly river sweep.

I believe it is important for leaders to examine their determination and practice their focus periodically. They should attempt a difficult task, maybe one they have never or rarely achieved. They should manufacture a challenge, choose a particular behavior and test their ability and resolve. It is fun to succeed in such a situation. You may see things in yourself you have never experienced or revisit positive past successes. For me, exploring nature in a canoe is a fine proving ground for leadership skills.

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.