Having taken a on a much larger role within H2o Dreams this past year, I found myself aboard a plane on New Year’s Day on my way to Chile for three packed full weeks of prepping, leading, and finally, unwinding from our Chile Enchantment trip. This was going to be an entirely new experience for me in every aspect since I had A: never traveled internationally B: never paddled out of the southeast and C: knew siete (no, wait, what’s six again? Seis!) seis, words in Spanish. It would have been enough of a challenge just going on this trip for the experience but here I was, wearing my trip leader helmet and heading into a rapid, blind.
The purpose of this post is not to go into detail about the trip so I won’t bore you with what we ate on Wednesday mornings. (Quick side note: our buddy Ben is cooking at the Pucón Kayak Hostel and the food is incredible!) Rather, I’m going to talk about leadership and specifically what it’s like to lead in an almost entirely foreign environment.
If you have never heard of the book StrengthsFinder before, I highly encourage you to check it out. Besides having a comprehensive test that shows you your top five strengths, StrengthsFinder’s biggest take away is to encourage you to build on and then maximize those top strengths to their fullest potential. Rather than focusing all of your energy trying to turn your weaknesses intro strengths, build those weaknesses up just enough so they don’t keep you from going where you want to go, then surround yourself with other people who help neutralize those weaknesses and put the majority of your energy into making your strengths even stronger.
I use the StrengthsFinder philosophy in my every day life and it was no different going into our Chile trip despite the fact that everything was going to be new. I knew that one of my greatest strengths was going to be being out on the water helping people to work their way down the river so this is where I focused a lot of my energy. Even though I was on new, unfamiliar rivers, all of the skills that I have worked on and honed over the years easily followed me from my home rivers in North Carolina. I also knew that another strength that I possessed, and was possibly at times my greatest, was my attitude. I am a very positive person and a positive attitude, just like a negative one, is contagious. Again, I poured a lot of my energy into staying positive because I knew that it was another area where I would see the most dividends. I had one guest tell me “I’m glad to see that you’re so excited on this trip because it makes me feel even more excited about everything.” Even though it took a lot of energy to stay positive at times, statements like that confirm that it is a strength worth investing in.
Going into the trip, I also identified that my two biggest weakness were going to be my total lack of knowledge of the Spanish language (why on earth did I take French in high school?), and my general unfamiliarity of the area where we were going to be paddling. But I also knew that I was going to be surrounded by Chris, who surprised me with his Spanish fluidity, and Gigo, our amazing local Chilean guide, which would more than make up for my language shortcomings. Once I got to Chile, I spent a little bit of time and energy looking at some maps and getting relatively familiar with where we were going to be but at the same time didn’t study intensely because I knew I could rely on the strength of Chris’ and Gigo’s familiarity of the area.
As leaders on and off the river, we will undoubtedly find ourselves suddenly leading in a blind environment. When we do, it’s vital that we stick with our strengths as those will be what carry us through the situation successfully. To help prepare for those times when we are thrust into that role we should: 1. identify what our strengths are now and 2. begin to develop those strengths so that we can maximize them. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, I encourage you to check out StrengthsFinder as it does a fantastic job of revealing what your top five strengths are. Additionally, you can ask close family and friends what areas they perceive you to have the greatest strengths in as it is often much easier for others to identify them for us than it is to identify them ourselves. Spend some serious time doing this and you will be amazed at how your leadership skills develop both on and off the