Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

“I prefer to learn the hard way.”


I rarely learn from other people’s mistakes, and as a leader learning from mistakes is key to education and leadership development. One leadership lesson all good leaders must learn is knowing when to make the correct decision, even when it’s not a popular decision.

I am not sure of the statute of limitations on offences committed in the state of Maine so all the names of this theoretical example have been changed to protect…..everyone.

Fireworks are illegal in the State of Maine.

The State of Maine is unmatched in beauty and wilderness. Nearly 80% of the land is owned by the State or logging companies, so there is little development and much of the state is covered in lush dense forests. To protect the land and wildlife from what would otherwise be devastating fires, understandably Maine has outlawed the use of a great bastion of celebration, fireworks. At least that was the case in the mid 90’s.

So when one of our weekend warrior guides, whom we will simply call “Gary”, drives up from out of state on the 4th of July weekend and arrives with a trunk full of firework contraband, the correct decision would be to inform “Gary” of the dangers and legality of setting off fireworks in the State of Maine and instruct him to leave them in the trunk of the car. This would not have been the popular decision, but it was the correct decision. Mistake #1.

So as we “a group of guides” headed down to the chosen secret spot, the last left just before the The Forks bridge, down to the end of the ballfield and the last camp spot amongst the trees along the river. Chosen cause the leafy trees provided adequate cover from pesky park rangers and game wardens, while the banks of the river at low flow was the perfect spot to allegedly launch a few modest fire balls into the night sky. Just before heading to this unknowable location, an idea was floated to the van full excited participants. Because safety is always a priority for Registered Maine Guides, in July proper hydration should be maintained, So I suggested a cooler we’ll refer to as “Barndance” to protect the brand name, should be filled with Sport Drinks and bottled water. However, there was a strong group of dissenters, led by of course “Gary”, “David”, “Jeffery” and probably a trouble maker we will refer to as “Christopher.” They felt that “Barndance” should be filled with an inexpensive fermented drink known in some cultures as cerveza or birra. The correct decision would be to inform this unruly mob that, although it was quite chilly out and pouring with rain, a beverage of that nature would not quench the insatiable thirst that setting off fireworks conjures. This would not have been a popular decision but it would have been the correct decision. Mistake #2.

Out voted, your truly, was told to pick up a few bags of ice to keep the macro brews cold. As predicted, these wee 12oz beverages couldn’t keep up with the water loss that shivering in the freezing rain while swatting black flies and no-see-ums induced. So as “barndance” quickly began to run dry, the evening’s fireworks of bottle rockets and black cats crescendoed and the biggest set were saved for last. Interestingly, “Gary” didn’t want to have any part of the grand finale, possibly due to plausible deniability, but more likely due to his humble disposition and not wanting to draw attention to himself for a light show that was about to be seen by the entire community…. probably.

So allegedly myself and someone else, whom I cannot remember for reasons that will become apparent, were voluntold to light the large mortar boxes that had been saved for last. With the fuses adequately frayed and placement perfect, my accomplices and I approached with cheap Bic lighters in hand. “OK, On three…”

Timing, synchronicity, and a steely resolve are elements required to pull off a finale that adequately honors America’s freedom and independence. ….two…three…just as we were set to release the fiery Bald Eagles, disaster struck, a malfunction. Sure it was raining, sure the fuse on my box of mortars was racing to its thunderous termination. But there were literally 10’s of people counting on us. Coward might be too strong a word, but when my accomplice’s fuse didn’t light he dashed for cover. Was that the correct decision?

Leaders often fall into the trap of trying to please the crowd, rather than making correct decisions based on current information, and is overall better for the people whom you lead but also takes into account the safety of the leader him or herself.

In that moment a decision was needed: retreat to safety or stay and finish the job so many Americans and possibly a French-Canadian were counting on. The split second decision was made, I stayed…

With the liquidized courage of the Red, White, and Blue coursing through my veins, as if in slow motion, the sparks flew from the 25¢ lighter piercing the cold, wet, dark of night. Stretching and leaning over an eminent 21 canon salute, the flame but kissing the tip of the fuse on the second box…. Then, just as in the beginning of time, there was a tremendous light…

As the Chinese-made American tribute left the first tube destined for a patriotic report of awe and wonder, it was met with inpenratabla resistance. To this day what followed is fuzzy and unclear. The air was filled with the smell of America; sulfur, charcoal, potassium nitrate, and burning hair. As the sound of freedom bounced off the valley walls, for a brief moment I wondered if my sight would ever return. Around me were triumphant cheers of glory and success but at what cost. I seemed to no longer have eyebrows and was supporting a new fringe I didn’t start the evening with. As witnessed by spectators, the first mortar launched with violent velocity at what appeared to be a worrying ninety degree angle after ricocheting off the face of a sacrificial lamb.

As sight slowly returned and I began to realise that my eyes were indeed still on the inside of my head and the ringing in my ears started to subside, I began to register the roar of the apathetic applause. It was in that moment that a life long valuable leadership lesson was learned.

Bones heal, chicks dig scars, pain is temporary, but glory is forever.

Leading Change

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

– Niccolo Machiavelli

Resistance to change is often rooted in fear. It’s the uncertainty of how the new future will affect our lives. Leaders who are effective change agents realise that it is not good enough to simply administrate change, but to avoid standing alone atop a charged hill, people need to envision a better future day for themselves or be able to attribute a worthwhile value for their sacrifice.

When unwanted change is thrust upon us from uncontrollable forces, then authenticity, clarity, and transparency in communication win the day to unite people behind the sacrifices needed to navigate the futures uncertainty.

lasting changes aren’t made, they are are led.

The Tyranny of the Urgent

“I can only do that for you today…”, “That has to be done by Monday”, “I know you started this but I need your focus on that”, “Things have changed since yesterday, we are now going in this new direction” “Honey, I booked the movers for next week” “We will deliver your package that you have been waiting for between 10am and 3pm”

We have created a culture of, “your way, right away” leading many of us we feel like we live under the tyranny of the urgent. Living for the weekend and wobbling through a vacation like leg day at the gym.

“Then on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” For crying out loud even God took a day to chill.

Rest, life is not a race, it’s a journey. Rest heals, rest re-fuels, rest prepares, rest rebuilds. The body, mind, and spirit need rest in the same way as it needs exercise, stimulation and fuel.

Avoid the tyranny of the urgent by scheduling in your rest and holding fast. Rest days are not wasted days, they make work days more productive.

Sleep in and then eat pancakes.

300 ml sour cream

3/4 cups plain/ all purpose flour / or gluten free flour is awesome.

1tsp baking soda / bicarbonate soda

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbls sugar

2 eggs.

Mix the dry and fold into the wet. Don’t over mix lumpy is ok. Add blueberries if you wish. Cook Then serve with warm maple syrup, bacon or sausage. This make about 9 pancakes.

Rest up for tomorrow, cause butts don’t kick themselves.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

“Everyone out of the boat…”


It was late winter, I was sitting at the bar with my new friend Chris at the Brew Pub on Dickson St. in Fayetteville, USA. I am quite sure we should have been studying for an upcoming exam in the class we shared, but our conversation turned to what our plans were for the summer. Chris knew someone who knew someone who had done some rafting in Maine and learned they were always looking for new guides. Training started in early May and Chris was going. My plans for the summer had fallen through and being on the river every day for a summer sounded pretty good. So we loaded up the trucks and drove to Maine.

To have whitewater you need three things: water volume, gradient, and structure. To have commercial viable whitewater rivers you have to add consistency. In Northwest Arkansas we have varying degrees to the first three, however we don’t have consistency. For that you need a snowpack in the mountains or a huge fauset, in the form of a hydroelectric dam. Maine has both.

I have spent many a day in an open canoe on the Buffalo National River, which was only a few miles from my house. Cut-off jeans and tube-tops were the uniform of choice and on a good day things could get exciting at Gray Rock, a class 2 riffle that would tip a few canoes creating a redneck yard sale of folding chairs, fishing rods, and beer koozies. Unattended coolers full of cold beer floating down a river in a dry county was the hillbilly equivalent of winning the lottery. As far as real whitewater, up to this point I had never seen a whitewater raft in person, much less ride one down something that would require a helmet and life jacket. These things were totally against my rules of life, #1 Always look good for the camera, #2 Don’t spill your beer, and of course Safety 3rd.

The First day of training to be a Registered Maine Guide

After a 36 hour road trip I remember emerging early from my tent to see my breath and large patches of snow still visible in the forest behind our campsite. As we gathered and met all the new victim…I mean trainees, the staff kindly led us over to the room where all the wetsuits were kept. We walked right by all the customer suits, neatly hung up smelling all fresh, to the back where the “vintage” suits were kept. I’m convinced these suits were part of a slow fermentation experiment, only to be disturbed once a year during training week. Otherwise stuffed in mesh bags with holes only big enough to let the spiders make their homes for the winter, we fished around to find suits that would fit… sorta. After getting our tired looking lifejackets and helmets, we grabbed a paddle and loaded up in an old faded white Chevy van that for some reason had one green bench seat that wasn’t attached to the floor.

I don’t remember much of the chat from the first day. We sat in the back of the van on the floor like sheep to slaughter, couldn’t really see out as the windows began to steam up during the 20 minute journey up to the dam. There seemed to be a nervous energy amongst the owners and the guides that were training us. Like an butcher not wanting to frighten the sheep, the guides spoke in some form of code the unsuspecting couldn’t understand. “It should be pretty exciting out there today, the river is running at over 13,000+ CFS.*” “Sweet 13,000C..f.. s”, I said while nodding in false confidence with the others, like a bunch of bobble heads. “What the hell is 13,000 cfs?” someone whispered.

*CFS = Cubic Feet per Second. It is the measure of the volume and flow of a river. For reference one CFS = about one basketball. The Kennebec river is considered a high flow river and on any given day the release from the hydro power dam was 4800 or sometimes 6000 cfs. On a couple of special scheduled days a year a max flow of 8000 cfs would be released. 13,000 basketballs per second was flood stage and a different ballgame altogether.

As we arrived at put-in we heard a thunderous roar of water as the flood gates were fully open and what seemed to be enough water to douse the fires of hell launched over the top of the dam. “What the heck have we got ourselves into?”

What outwardly seemed like mercy, we ended our first run at the halfway point. Wet, cold and out of breath after climbing the endless stairs at Carry Brook take out, we loaded up in the back of that ol’ white van to discover what seemed like mercy was actually S&M of the darkest kind. We had 5 more runs…

Most of that first day is fuzzy, If there was instruction, I don’t remember them. If they told us the names of rapids, it was a week before I could distinguish where one foamy cauldron from Sheol ended and a new one began. I am not even sure if everyone that started the day made it home. Nearly 25 years have passed and a few of the details have escaped me, however, the second trip down the river left an indelible mark that will never be forgotten. That trip began with owner Pete saying “All the trainees are with me.”

Pete was a tall, fit, middle aged man with a full head of black unkept curly hair, and a mustache that made Tom Selleck look like a boy in the throws of puberty. So when Pete said “get in,” we all got in. I didn’t remember any of the names of the rapids after the first trip, except one, Maytag. At the top of the rapid Pete told a boat full of cold, nervous, rookies that as soon as we hit the towering mountain of a wave known as Maytag we were to all jump out of the boat. We all responded with nervous laughter, cause NO WAY he could have been serious. We couldn’t have been more wrong. As the raft crested the powerful hydrolac he yelled “everyone out of the boat…” For possible legal reasons I can’t comment to the degree of willingness we all found ourselves out of the boat. But I would say fellow newbie “Skinny Ray,” recalls the life-saving grip he had on the line around the outside of the boat was mysteriously loosened by a sharp strike from a lone paddle from within the raft, and so began a violent, airless, dance with the sickle wielding creacher that tows the line that separates this life from the next.

If you want to know what “swimming” Maytag at 13000 cfs is like, imagine being flushed down a toilet. No, not your eco-friendly, low volume, home jobber. I’m talking about one of those airport types that are hooked up to some explosive air tank that with one false move misfires while you are still on it. Heaven forbid you are making a complete seal when it goes off. It’s the type that kept my niece from using public toilets until she was a teenager. Now imagine your one inch tall….that’s Maytag

I didn’t die, I didn’t die, I didn’t die… As our limp bodies were all pulled back into the boat with water and snot seemingly pouring out of every orifice, some heady questions began running though my mind.

1. Is our new boss legit, bat $!*t crazy? 2. Does he hate people from Arkansas? 3. How could that possibly be training?

As we coughed and sputtered and began to compose ourselves, Pete giggled at the pathetic sight of his fresh crop of new guides in training. Then, with a serious tone, he said, “Don’t ever forget what that felt like.”

What Pete knew then and would take me some time to learn is, The Kennebec River would not always feel like a place of darkness where dead people go, but in time would soon be a joy filled playground where we would regularly and voluntarily swim these same rapids for the pure enjoyment.

For the guide, remembering that feeling cautions us when working with guests who might be nervous or those rowdy ones who only think they want to flip the boat in the biggest rapids. Having that memory allows us to be a non-anxious presence when things don’t go to plan or fear is striking the heart of a crew member.

In life, it is the tough and sometimes painful experiences that help us become who and what we are. With time and with perspective, some of the worst experiences can become tales we tell others with humour around the campfire, or become opportunities to help guide others through similar experiences we now no longer fear in the same way.

There has never been a time in our generation that has been crazier than now. Mental and physical health, job loss, financial security, those around you might need an experienced “guide” that has walked through some of these things in the past, and through snot and tears said “I didn’t die, I didn’t die. You might be the help they are looking for.

* The details of this story, as with all Whitewater Wednesday stories, may not be factually accurate – it’s just how I remember it. No guides were… physically harmed in the events of this tale.

Increase productivity and lower stress and anxiety.

Schedule the work not just the due date.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings… Due dates and timelines. I have at times felt like I was drowning in meetings, and the pressure of projects. I would wake up on a given day and just react to whatever was next. Anxiety, stress, sleepless nights plagued my week.

I have been on a journey from being a “reactor” to responding to the time needs in my life. One of the key ways I have increased productivity while lowering stress while being more prepared for meetings and on time for projects has been one simple trick. Schedule when you plan on doing the work.

The due date is too late.

If you know you have a staff meeting on Monday morning, how much time do you need to be adequately prepared for it? Are you leading the meeting? are you presenting? Do you want to be stressing all weekend about it?

Schedule a “staff meeting prep” block days before the meeting. If it’s a reoccurring meeting then have a reoccurring prep time block to do the work. Show up ready, prepared, and able to respond rather than react.

Scheduling the “work time” rather than simply the due dates will reveal how much time you have to add new work or say no to other requests. It also prioritises your time to be more efficient with your week, resulting in higher productivity on things that matter most, while lowering stress.

Win the week.

Active Recovery Weekend

Active recovery as a practice has really gained traction in the sports science world. The idea is that during a typical weekly training/exercise cycle, rest days consist of engaging in light movement, low impact exercise, or play. Muscle groups are used but not “worked”. With increased blood flow and natural flushing of the lymphatic system, light activity speeds up the body’s recovery from intense training and workouts. For us desk athletes the brain needs recovery too.

These principles should be applied to any weekend. There is a set time to work, exercise, or get things done. There should also be time to play.

Schedule it, plan it, look forward to it, and keep it. View it as important as any other event or meeting in the diary. Emails, phone calls and busy work can wait till Monday.

Get out, get the blood flowing, and actively recover from this week and get ready to get after it next week.

We are getting out of town, going for a walk and having an epic BBQ with friends. What are you planning?

Feeling Lost?

“Be Prepared” 

Boy Scouts of America Moto

As a Boy Scout, orienting a map and compass was an essential skill, and one of the first Merit Badges earned. Being only a few degrees off on the compass over a long distance can mean missing your destination by miles. If you get lost tramping around in the unknown wilds of Northwest Arkansas or in the Rocky Mountains of Philmont Scout Ranch, STOP, don’t keep going forward. Go back to where you knew where you were and reset your bearings, re-orient, set a new course.

For those of us that go to church, pray, have our quiet times, we can still often feel lost, alone, and distant from God. It’s pretty understandable the year we are all having in 2020. It’s OK, go back to when you knew where you were, where your vision was clear, or you felt close to God.  Remember, read old journal entries, blog posts, encouraging letters from grandma, ask a mentor. Get your bearings, re-orient yourself, then re-plot the next waypoint. Don’t out run your compass.  

Do you know where you are?  Which way are you heading? What is your next waypoint? It’s OK to Stop, it might be time to take a step back before heading into new territory.

Time is finite.

Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, and twenty four hours in a day. That’s what we get. no more, no less. We can’t make more of it, speed it up, slow it down. We got all we’re going to get.

If something needs to get done we cannot “make time” to do it.

If something on your list isn’t getting done; family, work, or fun, it might not be a product of time but of priority.

Re-evaluate what is most important and start allocating your finite time there. If something doesn’t get done make sure it is of low value, not the thing you value most.

Save the good stuff

Woke up Monday morning feeling pretty good about the church services on Sunday. Things went smoothly, the team was working well together, and it felt nice to get a few compliments and positive feedback on the sermon after the service.

The next day I can feel a little drained so the morning ritual takes a little longer with that extra cup of joe helping shake the fog.  Open the email and there it is, pages and pages of “feedback” and it’s filled with smiley face emojis that just don’t seem to cover the cantankerous tone.   

Of the two, which type of feedback keeps you up at night? Encouragement or criticism? 

Leaders are always getting unsolicited feedback.  Some positive and some less so.  Process the negative for any lesson to be learned, acknowledge receipt, respond with grace, but move on. 

Save the good stuff!

Create a folder for the encouraging emails. Shoebox for nice cards. Take a picture of a gift and make a note.

Leadership and feedback go hand in hand, and it can help to have a place to go to help reorient during those times when the bad outweighs the good.

Hot tips for productivity: Spelling

I am on a journey, battling my tendencies of procrastination and abhorrence to administration. The fastest way to improve leadership is to work on self leadership. Understanding weaknesses and blind spots is the first step. Second, is leveraging strategies and resources to bolster the weaker links.

Personal insight: I am the most very worst at spelling and grammering.

Spell checkers are a gift from heaven. However, half the time my spelling is so bad I get “no recommendation” in response to clicking on the little red line under the word in question. After 13 years my wife is well tired of me asking all the time.

So here is a quick tip that I recently discovered. If you have no idea how to spell the word _____________, then on a Mac press “fn” button twice and just say it, boom there it is. MS Word now also has a dictation function as well.

“dyslexia” “Serendipity”  or “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”   (actual results)

Not as convenient, but you can also ask ‘Siri’, or ‘Hey Google’

Your welcome.

Humility Vs Pride

“Pride leads to destruction, while humility is the path to redemption.”

I said this recently, and probably stole it from somewhere.

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to fess up to when we blow it.  Recently, the most successful and fastest growing movement in the health and fitness sector began to collapse because the leadership couldn’t admit its failure. During the height of the pandemic, and escalating social and political unrest, a global fitness community was feeling disjointed and confused. Looking for empathy and leadership, this community was met with contempt and pride. 

As leaders it is ok to not have all the answers, and hopefully it is still ok to make mistakes. However, leaders build trust by modelling what it looks like to take ownership when we blow it. 

-Respond, don’t react.

-Be a non-anxious presence.

-Communicate quickly and often, even if only to inform that a more formal response is coming.

-If appropriate, confess without defending. Own your side without qualifying or pointing fingers. Even if others have a bigger part to own. Start with you.

-Do whatever is in your power to make it right.

-Listen well, as leaders sometimes we may have to let others beat on our chests a little, remain a non-anxious presence and reflect back on what you are hearing, gain understanding and perspective. Even if you disagree, we all value being heard.

Admitting wrongdoing has become a Purple Unicorn in public leadership amidst our newly woke cancel culture. But leaders who are game changers know admitting mistakes breeds unity and strength.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river.

“Always volunteer to scrub the toilets, it’s the worst and easiest job.”


There are few jobs I truly hate in this life, painting and scrubbing toilets are at the top of the list.  I am very good at both.  I have been polishing porcelain honey buckets for most of my life. We’re not talking about weekly chores around the house. I’m talking about the last bastion of legal child labour, workin’ for the family. Back when dad was part owner of a regional theme park, I spent a summer in yellow Marigolds pushing a trolley loaded with supplies to all the public toilets…every day… for almost as much money as you could find in change at the bottom of some of the rides at the end of the year. Along with other terrible jobs I did for dad, he would always tell me “now you know what you don’t want to do with the rest of your life.” more on that in a later post.

Years later, as a first-year raft guide, being a rookie in the company meant we got just enough work to buy the essentials of life to stay alive: egg salad sandwiches and cold Bush beer.  And when you did get work, the time spent on the river was just a fraction of the tasks that needed to be done, handing out wetsuits, prepping snacks, taking the chicken out of the fridge and putting it in the same Mr. Yoshida’s sauce…every day, sorting wetsuits, building fires, cooking, dunking wetsuits, taking out the trash, sell t-shirts, drying wetsuits, paint the deck, sort the recyclables mow the lawn, on and on and on, these jobs got divvied out at the beginning of the day.  The last one to be volunteered for… Cleaning customer toilets. 

There are two types of raft trash, those that choose to do it full time, and the weekend warrior. The weekend warrior has a real job, they’ve been around for a while and they just show up to the party when it’s busy and there’s enough work to go around. One of the legends… Lee

Lee showed up from Boston from time to time. Lee was an avid kayaker, and what he may have lacked in kayaking mastery he more than made up for in chutzpah. Lee was one of my favourites…”Ok”. For Lee, guiding rafts was a necessary evil to help pay for the kayaking habit.

Somehow Lee was always done with work and back on the river before everyone else, and no one cared, because Lee always volunteered to clean the toilets. I took notice.

So I started to volunteer to clean the toilets every time I was picked to work for the day. I had been training for years.

            -It was the job everyone hated.

            “Everyone was thankful someone else had to do it.

            -River managers took notice.

             -It was the easiest job and took the least amount of time.

Sure, every once in a while you had that “special day,” where you weren’t sure how shhhh…tuff ended up where it did, but because those days existed, no one batted an eye that I was chillin’ in the sun sippin’ a frosty cold adult beverage, long before everyone else.  This even worked when farmed out to other companies, They were grateful and called you back,

After a few years of climbing the raft guide ladder, I found myself at the helm of the operation, doling out the tasks for the first-year minions. First you take volunteers and then you just start dispersing tasks like a Read-Option Quarterback on game day. I saved the toilets for myself.

I still volunteer to polish privy when I can, and all these years later have learned some valuable leadership lessons amidst the fumes of bleach and last night’s curry.

-Leaders have to be willing to know what the worst job feels like.

-Leaders who scrub toilets remain humble, and grounded.

-Way easier to ask others to do tasks when you are willing to do the worst one.

-People respect and follow leaders willing to muck in and do the tough stuff.

-Folk will do other terrible tasks knowing you haven’t assigned anything you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.

– Those in leadership above you will notice.

Oh, I still hate cleaning another man’s throne, but I have been scrubbing toilets now for over 35 years. And in the delineation of tasks in my marriage, guess who scrubs the toilets…that’s me, already on the couch, with a cold one in hand. And no one’s complaining.

P.S.A. In case you are wondering, the women’s public toilets are by far THE WORST to clean! Please stop “hovering”, it’s not working!