Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned on the river

“Do something, anything, even if it’s wrong” – Pete

For the most part, whitewater rafting is a relatively safe and exhilarating activity. After all you can’t drown instantly… right? However, when things do go wrong, they get worse fast. On the rare occasions when things didn’t go as planned, let’s say the river is running at flood stage, and you have a full boat of exciting guests and when they ask you how long you have been a professional guide, when you say “six more days makes a whole week”, you are not lying to them. Hypothetically…let’s say in the middle of the biggest rapid on the river the raft seems to explode after hitting a monster hydraulic and is now upside down with everyone bobbing up and down in class IV+ whitewater… hypothetically. Some raft guides could have a tendency to freeze, you might call it “analysis paralysis.”  After climbing onto an upside down raft, eyes wide open, and mouth slightly gaped, a rookie guide from Arkansas might seem to slide back down the evolutionary chart a few notches. Motionless atop the raft just staring at the bright blue helmets bobbing in and out of site like a chaotic game of “whack-a-mole”, the situation only getting worse. That’s when, in the back of your mind, you would hear the words shouted at you daily during training,

“Do something, anything, even if it’s wrong.”  

Now, this is not to say factors shouldn’t be calculated, or options weighed. This isn’t a mantra to simply look busy, franticly attempting a half hearted rescue. In a given circumstance it meant every second that went by the situation was getting worse. Inaction compounded the situation, increased the risk of catastrophic result.

To succeed as a quality guide, we quickly learned to process on the fly, take action, make adjustments, and change plans as needed.  That might mean saving yourself first. Wait isn’t that selfish? Well, there is a reason your airline safety briefing tells you to put your oxygen mask on first.  A raft, an aeroplane, a business, it does the guest, costumer, or employee no good if the leader is out of commision. Putting yourself in a better position enables you to help others rather than being part of the problem.

Often, the root of “analysis paralysis” is a fear. The Kennebec river at flood stage, choking on the freezing water, literally up the river without your paddle it is easy to recognise where the fear might come from, however in the rest of life it might be the fear of a wrong decision, fear it’s not what a peer would do, or fear of failure. On the river, failure to act could lead to someone getting hurt or worse. As leaders we should be able to assess, act, and adjust to the changing circumstances at appropriate time scales. Experiencing fear is normal, but good leaders are able to remain calm and level headed and move forward in the face of fear. And when we experience failure it doesn’t define us as leaders, but becomes an opportunity to learn, adjust, and get better. 

If like me 2020 has not gone to plan for you, now is time to act, embrace the fact things are not going back to the way they were, seize the opportunity, start moving forward, and making course corrections on the way. “Do something… anything… even if it’s wrong.”

As a leader what is your greatest fear?  Hint: It’s not spiders.

What is the first step to overcome?

To My Bride

Like puttin’ on the hits, 

Or stayin’ at the Ritz,

They givin’ me the fits,

Cause I love ’em to bits.

Not to have ’em would be the pits,

Baby, I love your… eyes.   Happy Anniversary

A good moan…

“have a moan…it’s good to get it off your chest”

– everyone

There is a misconception, that it is healthy to complain, whine, or just have a moan.

It’s a lie.

Groaning and moaning doesn’t breed joy.  Think about the happiest, most joy-filled person you know. How often do they complain? Or do they use their words to encourage, compliment, lift up, or highlight the positive side of life. Our hearts “leak” and if our focus is on what is wrong around us we “leak” negative. Retune your eyes and hearts to what is good.  There are plenty of negatives being brought to our attention in the world. Let’s change the channel.

What are you most grateful for today?

Chasing Spots

There is a moment when every thought and distraction vanishes, and one is completely present. The only sound is the tranquil ripple of the brook as it tumbles over shallow rocks, and the faint wail of a rusty windmill off in the distance. In the twilight of dusk in the Highlands of Scotland, a perfectly presented fly gently lands in the midst of dancing caddis. Then, as if on cue, the river offers up her sweet reward.

There is simply no greater pursuit than chasing the spots of the wild Brown Trout.

Whitewater Wednesday: Leadership learned from the river.

“What the hella ya doin?” 

Pete Dostie, Owner, North American Whitewater

For eight years I guided whitewater rafts down some of the best whitewater rivers in the United States.  Few things go from fun to frightening or calm to chaos faster than a Class V whitewater trip. And if you worked for a rafting company, then you worked for a crazy person. My crazy person was Pete, and I loved him to bits.

From the first day of training to the last day as a seasoned guide, Pete hollered at me. “What the hella ya doin” in his East Haven Connecticut Accent.

Its meaning could be one of affectionate greeting or profound disappointment.  All depending on the tone, which sounded exactly the same.  However, on the river, it generally meant one of three things.

“What the hella ya doin” = Are your decisions and actions deliberate and with purpose?

Guiding whitewater, the difference between “best day ever” and “In the North Maine woods, all accidents are fatal” is the product of thousands of decisions made amid infinite factors, while sometimes clouded by bad decisions from the night before, all shooting for one outcome, “good times had by all.”   Every decision made had to have purpose and intentionality.  First-year guides tend work crews to death because they are constantly making small unnecessary decisions that take bigger necessary decisions to undo. The old geezers, processed the factors, knew when to make the right moves, and make them at the right time.  Least amount of effort for the maximum impact. This preserved the strength of the crew for when you needed it the most.

Effective leadership involves distilling the right information before making deliberate, purposeful decisions.

“What the hella ya doin” = Are you accountable?

Rookie guides love to blame the crew for a bad run, “couldn’t paddle”, “they’re too weak”, “too young”, “too old”, “too many”, “too heavy” or “they just wouldn’t listen.”  The experienced guides know the crew only goes where you guide them. True for work, churches, marriage and ministry, if there is a problem, it is always a leadership problem.  Any given ‘crew’ is right where the leadership led them. Blaming the crew discourages and costs valuable leadership equity. When things go bad, take extreme ownership of the situation. Humbly and appropriately communicate mistakes and then make better decisions. Likewise, when things are going well, focus the attention and praise back on the team. This will build trust and unity and a willingness to follow even when leaders make mistakes.

What the hella ya doin?” = What did you learn from the outcome?

Having all eight of your guests precariously perched on the tip of the only rock in the widest part of the river, while your raft is slowly being sucked under the surface and wrapped around the very rock to which you cling, the last thing you want to hear coming from the banks is “What the hella ya doin?”  A couple of hours later, back at the base it was followed with “let’s not do that again.” To not do it again is to know how you got there in the first place.  As leaders, we need to be keenly aware of what decisions, rightly or wrongly, that were made that led to mistakes we make, so as not to repeat them. As uncomfortable as outside feedback can be, it is imperative to allow respected voices to speak into our lives and point out our blind spots and help hone our leadership skills.  Feedback, good and bad, is invaluable to making us better leaders.

So amidst the biggest crisis the world has seen in two generations,

“What the hella ya doin?”

Million Dollar Idea

3am and every minute on the minute, BEEP!…BEEP! piercing the cold, still, dark of night. Why do the batteries in smoke detectors always have to be changed in the middle of the deepest of sleep? Few things test a man’s sanctification, like dragging a step ladder around the house at 3am while somehow the wife never so much even rolls over. We now have cars that drive themselves, what if the smoke detector knew when the battery needed to be replaced and alerted you the week before during daylight hours? I would pay a little extra for said smoke detector, and I bet you would too.

Reflections on Freedom

“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Living in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the times

I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me. “   

Johnny Cash – Man in Black

Reflecting on the Fourth of July, as an American, I consider all the men and women that have fought, bled, stood on walls, charged hills, and willingly laid down their lives, paid the ultimate cost for a country with freedoms and opportunity like no place on Earth. For this, I am so very humbly grateful.

Reflecting as an immigrant living in the UK for the past 16 years, I now see my homeland from a distance. When you live away from a place of origin for some time you begin to see it through a new lens. Whether that’s your family, religion, town, or even country. What I think I see now is that we, as Americans, have possibly elevated Freedom from a good thing to an ultimate thing. In years past, men and women willingly fought and died, at home and on foreign soil. for the sake of others. Laying down personal freedoms and rights so that others could live under the goodness of freedom. Now it feels we are no longer fighting for the freedom of others but for preference of individuality. Collectively replacing “We the people of the United States of America…” with “I the individual of my personal preference…”

When a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, it becomes an idol of our heart. Idols enslave us, hold us captive, and demand everything of us. When we are easily offended, become anxious, or live in fear it could be because the idols of our heart is under threat.

Reflecting as a follower of Jesus, I am reminded, the first word of the Lord’s Prayer is “Our.” That’s important. The prayer Jesus taught us is a prayer of community and reconciliation, belonging to a new kind of people who have left the land of “me.” This new humanity is an exodus people who have entered the promised land of “we,” to whom “I” and “mine” and “my” are things of the past. Here our God teaches us the interconnectedness of grace and liberation in a new social order. Here we are judged inasmuch as we judge, and forgiven as we forgive. 1

It is only in the light of the gospel that our freedom can be put in its rightful place.
Pastor Timothy Keller put it this way,

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

This reality begins to change the motivational structures of our being, what the Bible refers to as the “heart”. Therefore, our behaviours and works begin to change, not as a means to God but as a response to His grace. This is the unchangeable promise from God, in the New Covenant. At the cross Jesus laid down his rights and his freedom, paying the ultimate and final price so that our shackles could fall and we could be free. Therefore, like Jesus, we can live without offence and fear and freely lay down our rights, our privilege, and preferences for the sake of our neighbour. And when it’s appropriate, fight for the freedom and justice of others.

Be safe, love your neighbour.

Happy Fourth of July.

1 Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for
Ordinary Radicals, IVP 2008:18.

Thanks, grocery store employees.

“Thank you for being here” – Me

Here in Scotland at 8 pm on a Thursday, we stick our heads out the window and clap for all the care workers. Having a wife who is a Doctor I know the NHS and all the other carers deserve it. Quietly though I am thinking about all the folk who stock the shelves, work the tills, and put up with us when we overreact to when they don’t happen to have that brand of special thing we need. I am cheering for you. Thank you!


Tell your local grocery store worker, delivery person, liquor store employee, “Thanks for being here”.

swallow a frog

“If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first.” – Mark Twain

Prioritise the first, biggest or most important tasks in your day first.  Then, no matter what, you end the day feeling productive. 

In life, leadership, marriage, or ministry, we all have the things we are not as passionate about or we just downright don’t want to do. My natural inclination is to put it off.  However, some things have to get done.  Two things I hate, taking out the trash, and conflict, But my wife says it’s my job to take out the trash, and God says conflict is an opportunity to live out the gospel.  Putting these off leads to stress and anxiety and early death.   Swallow the big frogs first, save the passion till after lunch.

Take the First Step…

“The first step to becoming is to will it”
― Mother Teresa

Sometimes the path to overcoming fear, or a self-limiting belief is to just will the first step to happen. Waiting for the inspiration, passion, or “the want to” may never get it done. I have a fear of writing and a limiting belief that I am not a writer.  Even though I have written hundreds of pages of sermons I live in fear.  So in faith, this is my first step…  What is yours?

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