After more than a few harrowing moments on what I called a “river roller coaster ride,†what I realized in my first ever white water rafting afternoon was a reminder that when you prepare for the unknown, it does help you conquer fear.

How can you get ready for the unknown in leadership and communication?

Let’s take some cues from white water rafting for the first time.

  1. Make sure you’re dressed for the occasion or can quickly “suit up†as needed! While I thought I would be fine – I was wearing a bathing suit, shorts, boat shoes and a light jacket — overcast skies and intermittent hard raining spells prompted the Rolling Thunder Rafting Company to hand out insulated jackets to each of us, along with the standard red life vest. They turned out to be a real blessing, given the freezing waters! While many offices and conferences have relaxed dress codes these days, sloppy is still not universally accepted. I recommend you keep an ironed dress shirt or other professional-looking outfit in your office or even your car for those last-minute “call to action†times.
  1. Clarify the situation before jumping in to solve a problem! Before heading out into the river, the guide had my group try out rowing in unison, following his directions. He also told us it may be necessary for us to lean together to the right or left on his command, to help avoid the rocks. We practiced both moves a few times. A rapid response when he shouted an order was essential for everyone’s well-being and to prevent us from taking an unwanted dunk into the 59-degree water. When a conflict arises – your team or the conversation is headed towards the rocks – a natural tendency is to immediately respond with bold, in-your-face statements to counteract what’s happening.  Other than in life-threatening situations, however, this approach usually doesn’t work. A good leader, instead, acknowledges the discord, the fear and anxiety that are present, and then guides the conversation into safer, more productive arenas. How do you approach a challenge in your workplace? Within your nonprofit organization?

You could say that my rafting journey with my dear sister, brother-in-law and cousin in the Nantahala Forest in Tennessee was a mirror of everyday life:  A few blissful moments of peace, quiet and nature where we drifted along in bliss, followed by fast-flowing, potentially treacherous rocks for a few minutes that made us catch our breath more than once. Before reaching our final destination, we braved the most ferocious rocks and rhythms of the river. That’s the picture you see with me, on the right, with my mouth wide open, hanging on for dear life!

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