Are You Ready to Ride the Wave?

Now more than ever today’s leaders are challenged with examining how they should respond and guide their organization through turbulent times. Leaders are faced with many choices, how do they tackle the white water class “5” rapids.

Do you prepare your team, dig in the oars and ride the tide? Do you look for an opportunity to find safe haven? Do you explore perhaps the longer and more time consuming route of portage? Or do you explore how to stay emotionally grounded to take your through the exhilarating and threatening experience of staying focused while riding the waves of turbulence?

In the 1990’s I had the opportunity to meet Peter Vail as part of a Change Management practicum and I was struck by the insight and perspective in his book “Learning as a Way of Being”. Vail described the process of learning using the analogy of whitewater to describe the turbulence and uncertainty we face today. While creating an accurate description of “learning” Vail also provided us with a pretty good description of business life today. I find remarkable is that the lessons of the past resurface and remind us that what we call”soft” skills require a mindset of continuous learning. But what is continuous learning?

“Continuous learning is NOT about continually taking courses — it’s about developing skills in reflection and inquiry — it’s about learning how to learn so that your life’s experiences become your own learning lab. The concept of continuous learning has become quite prominent over the past five years. Organizations are changing rapidly. Therefore, it’s difficult to find any approach to doing anything in organizations that doesn’t soon become outdated. The concept of continuous learning has become important because it places priority on noticing, adapting and learning from change.”  ~Carter McNamara

For anyone who has been on white water rapids, no matter the class, four things hold true for me that hold true for leadership:

  1. Know they self – What are your skills, how do you stay grounded in “heart pounding” situations. What are the assets of your team?
  2. Assess the environment – What
  3. are your choices, where could surprises surface
  4. Clearly communicate your vision and strategy – Your team often does not have time to think in the midst of white water so prepare them ahead of time with a clear vision and specific communications.
  5. Be Agile and Adaptable – Be prepared to review your game plan as you move through the course

How do you measure up? Are you prepared to ride the waves?


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Bonnie Hochstein

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