I Just Climbed Into the Front of a Raft

I started a new job a couple weeks ago. I’ve noticed that our leadership team LOVES to use sports analogies – cool, I just came from the sports industry, I can get on-board with this. That being said, let me use a slightly different type of analogy to sum up the first few weeks.

Imagine for a minute that you’re the captain of a white-water rapids raft. You’re in your boat, sitting at the back, steering and guiding your crew through a river when you enter a rapid you’ve never been through. Not only that, but your crew is a bunch of individuals you’ve never been with on the water. At some point you’re thrown overboard, but you’re able to get back to the raft and pull yourself back in. By the time you get back in a few things hit you. First, you’ve just climbed into the front of the raft, and you immediately need to get to the back to take command. However, it’s not that simple as you also make the startling realization you’re still in the middle of a huge rapid. Take a sec, think about what you might be feeling at that point. You with me? Good, we’re on the same page, let’s talk.

Fun and joking analogy aside, there are some parallel feelings and decisions, I think…

Assess the situation quickly. I like to measure twice and cut once whenever possible, but there are times that call for making the best decision with the limited information you have available to you in that moment. The reality of the situation here is I can apply both, but I have to know what I have time to assess over time versus what decisions we need to make quickly.

Be decisive. Pick a route and go. Double-back if necessary, but don’t freeze in the moment and waste valuable time. The challenge ahead of me is that we need to be smart and calculated, but we need to be nimble and quick as there’s lots of work to be done.

Lots of unknowns. Learn as you go and pick up what you can when you can. A lot is being thrown at you and there’s a lot you may not know yet. Similar to the above, good leaders can be decisive and make decisions by assessing the situation around them and making the best decision possible with what information they have available. Put another way, be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Who to rely on. Let’s face it, in nearly every work place you rely on different people for different things in different situations. Being new has its advantages, but it also has its disadvantages.

How to inspire them to work as a team. Whether people have worked with one another in the past or not doesn’t mean they function well or efficiently together. Getting human beings to work well with each other is no small task. Getting them to work efficiently together can be even more difficult.

How to get them to follow you as a leader. Being higher in title and role doesn’t mean people are going to listen or follow you. Proving these things through actions as a leader can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Are you coming into a situation in which someone else feels as though they should have gotten the job? What if individuals feel more tenured?

Questions galore. I’m the type of person who loves to ask questions. I’m generally a very curious person and it’s one of the ways in which I learn – asking questions and listening. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably going to have a ton of questions, some of which you are going to get answered, others which you may not.

Confusion. Along with not always getting answers to everything you have questions on, there may also be a lot of confusion around roles, responsibilities, expectations, etc. I’m not saying this is easy to navigate, it’s not. Try getting clarification through questions and constant communication.

Be confident. Although I understand it, I’m not the biggest fan of the quote “fake it until you make it”. You’re in the role you’re in for a reason. You might not know 100% of the answer, but hopefully at this point in your career if you’re being asked to make impactful decisions, you’ve got a strong foundation of how to traverse challenging situations.

Over-whelming. Depending on what you’re coming into, it’s going to feel overwhelming. That’s okay, a good raft captain should know how to handle it.

Excited. A new opportunity with new challenges generally means a new growth opportunity to push yourself and learn new things. That’s awesome. Embrace it and be excited!

So back to me for a second. This place is nuts. An incredible amount of talent surrounds me, but there’s a lot of work to be done to clean up some areas and get people ready for the future. I’m incredibly excited for what I’m now in the middle of, and looking forward to navigating the obstacles in front of us.