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Five Leadership Lessons Learned In A Canoe

A leadership expert shares five life and leadership lessons she learned during her fourth trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

by Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE  |  2551 views  |  1 comment  |      Rate this now! 

One hour north of Ely, MN, off a gravel road called Echo Trail, Little Indian Sioux River meanders through lily-pad waters and past beaver houses to meet Loon Lake.  It’s but a tiny part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a vast chain of lakes and rivers that divide Canada and the United States. 

It was our fourth season to canoe for a week, testing our ability to paddle against wind gusts of 35-mph, fight mosquitoes and stinging flies, drag our boat over beaver dams, portage up and down slippery trails and sleep most nights under the stars.

A prior trip resulted in a leadership article.  Seems nature can offer insights on many aspects of life that pertain to leadership. This trip was no exception:
  • Necessity IS the mother of creativity.  A small piece of yellow rubber tubing from an exercise band replaced the lost showerhead on our solar shower water bag. I teased our friend, Tom, when he threw the band into his Duluth pack.  Boy, was I wrong.  What can you look at - with different eyes - that might solve a problem?
  • If the wind is at your back, make the most of it.  On the few occasions the fierce wind shifted, I discovered that a raised paddle blade, turned to catch wind, acted as a mini sail, driving us more quickly across the open water. Yes, it was also necessity!  If you have momentum, how can you make more of it?
  • Expended energy demands refueling to keep going.  Ziploc bags of nuts, fruit and M&Ms became essential when we'd slow down.  Even the birds in these waters are constantly looking to refuel.  During breeding season, a pair of loons can consume 2,000 pounds of fish. That might also explain why I never caught any!   Do you stop and refuel when your body needs it?
  • Everything works better when the team is in synch.  Our friends in the other canoe often seemed to move more quickly then we did.  Then I realized: their paddle strokes were in synch.  Plus, Tom sat in the bow and his stronger paddling made up for the times when Pam stopped paddling to steer the boat.  That's not only synchronization of action but also a synchronization of talent.  Are you in synch with your team and playing to your strengths?
  • You can only leave "home" if a champion stays behind.  This trip would not have happened without my sister Susan, a champion of great ability and strength.  She moved into our house to oversee the care of my elderly mother, thus allowing us to journey into the wilderness.  Who tends your home or workplace so you can venture forth into new territory?

About the Author

Eileen McDargh is a powerful keynoter and business author. Her most recent book, "Talk Ain't Cheap... It's Priceless" offers a simple yet powerful methodology for creating connections that count and conversations that matter. Eileen ranks among the top thought leaders in personal leadership development by Executive Excellence Magazine. Learn more about Eileen at her motivational speaker site or on her blog, Plain Talk.

Read more by Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE

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