Leadership Lessons from a Shallow River


Sometimes being a leader means plunging into new territory or making decisions without all the facts known. Still, being prepared with as much information as reasonably possible can help things go more smoothly.


On a recent ½-day kayaking trip three friends and I were prepared for some, but not all of the snags we encountered. A bit more homework may have steered us to a different waterway; however, we would not have had the same physical workout.


We selected a 6-mile segment of the Gila River just north of Winkelman, Arizona. Three out of the four of us had floated this segment two years prior, and because there have recently been some good southern Arizona rainstorms we were hoping there would be sufficient water flow (remember, this is the Southern Arizona desert – not a ton of water sports to be had). We were well prepared with sunscreen, snacks and plenty of drinking water and we expected to be on the river about 3 hours – a nice leisurely float.


What we found is in spite of the recent rains, the reservoir was not necessarily letting much water flow through the dam into the river, and we were a little too far downstream – hence – very shallow water, sometimes only a few inches. This meant several times we had to get out of the kayaks and physically carry them for several yards to slightly deeper water. This also means lots of rocks, mud, fallen tree branches and other snags in the water to be avoided.


While we enjoyed the company of friends, and got a well-rounded workout from not only paddling, but walking and carrying the kayaks, the trip took us well over 4 hours, and was much less leisurely than we’d expected. We know we could have done more planning and gathered more information about the stream and water flow conditions, which might have lead us to choose a different location. But we’re glad we made the trip, and feel it was a rewarding adventure.


All this reminded me of how leaders sometimes have to make decisions based on limited or partial information. Still, with good planning and gathering of the facts that are available plunging into new challenges can be very rewarding.