Have you been white water rafting?
It’s great isn’t it? You are in the raft, drifting down the river, laughing and enjoying the beauty. Then, if you are aware, you see the water take on a bit more energy. You tune into a distant rumble. You can hear shouts from rafters currently engulfed in the next set.
Suddenly you see the rapids. A long stretch of foam, spray and raw energy. Your guide offers last minute instructions and then – you’re in! It’s chaos. The guide shouts; you pull and paddle; others laugh or yell. It is stressful and exhilarating at the same time.
As quick as it starts – it ends. You are back in calm water. You have time to drift, tell stories and anticipate the next set.
That’s how leadership used to be. Time for rest, preparation and contemplation – followed by short bursts of chaos, stress and confusion – followed again by time to prepare, think and recover. In case you haven’t noticed – those days are all but gone! In today’s world, leaders experience:
Perpetual White Water!
The pace of change, increased competition, higher expectations, limited resources, low tolerance for error and faster demands are the norm. There seems to be one “fire” after another. Falling behind guarantees you are buried for the week!
The demands are higher and the time for rest and reflection all but gone. What are you supposed to do?!
- Quit? You can, but chances are your next place of employment will be similar.
- Say no? You could, but in many places it can be career limiting.
- Ignore it? Working at your pace instead of the needed pace is risky; you could go from “problem solver” to “the problem.”
This isn’t going away. My advice – evolve your leadership.
What worked yesterday is not as likely to work today. Living and leading in perpetual whitewater requires different skills, abilities and perspectives. While I could write an entire book on the subject, I want to introduce a handful of fundamentals to get your transformation started.
To build your “white water skills” – start with 5 fundamentals:
- Better Stress Management: I don’t expect you to be an adrenaline junkie, but you need to see “stress” in a different light. Build your tolerance for that which you cannot control and work to keep it in perspective.
- Strong Situational Awareness – you need to be aware of your environment on a tangible and intangible level. Be tuned into the subtle nuances – see the big picture and the details at once.
- Excellent Critical Thinking Skills – you must be able to quickly connect the dots. You must be able to critically evaluate less data than you would prefer and still come to sound conclusions.
- Be Tolerant of Ambiguity – You can no longer measure, predict, control or understand all aspects of your job/life. You need to embrace the “grey and nebulous” world. If you slow down to cross every “T” and dot every “I” you are dead in the water.
- Increased Agility – while I love a good ‘to d0 list’ – I also know that you can’t control your day anymore. At the end of any phone call or knock at your door could be a new priority, issue or problem. You need to be nimble and agile all the while keeping the must do’s in your mind.
We live in a new, exciting and stressful period. The pace, expectations and demands are at an all time high. If you are in leadership and/or aspire to greater leadership – you need to prepare now. As you climb in the organization the demands are only greater and the water faster.
Your challenge: Conduct a self assessment of the 5 white water skills – better yet, ask a mentor for feedback. Work to prepare the weaker areas on a daily basis. Finally – keep on paddling!!