A Leadership Lesson From the Back of the Boat

This past weekend I went camping with some friends. We had a great time. One of the most memorable moments was our rafting trip down the Pine River. There were lots of laughs…especially when I was the first one to fall out. But the most noteworthy image that came out of the trip was, “You can’t steer from the middle.”

I was sitting at the rear of the raft, the position that steers the craft. In front and to the right of me was Aaron. He had canoeing experience and paddling skills because he was a boy scout, a detail he reminded us of jovially and repeatedly. When Aaron recognized we need to make directional changes he would try to steer. While his assessment was accurate and his actions were technically correct, they were often not helpful because of the position he was sitting in.

All this made me think of the situations I have been in, am in now and will be in in the future.

Even in organizational environments that encourage collaboration, most are structured for one person to steer; He has the final say. The buck stops with her. If you have been granted that position, be open to the input of those around you then communicate clearly where we’re going and what needs to be done. If you are sitting in another seat, offer your input then follow the instructions you are given. Over the last 27 years I have missed the mark and hit the sweet spot on both of these but I don’t think the lesson was ever more clear than Friday.

If you’ve been doing what you’re doing for any amount of time, chances are you can assess situations with wisdom and accuracy. Chances are you have mastered skills that are technically precise. But have you checked lately which seat you’re sitting in? I’m sitting in Aaron’s seat where I work…so I am confronted with a choice: stop trying to steer or find another boat to pilot.


What about you?


5 thoughts on “A Leadership Lesson From the Back of the Boat

  1. i love the perspective in this post…i am gifted with the ability to lead strong, but in reflection can see where i’ve not been in the right seat and it has caused frustration and anger.

    right now, i am transition from the front, or even the middle, to the back of the boat, and finding the movement a bit wobbly. i must tread lightly, find my place, take my seat slowly and then try to steer. all this is very tricky, challenging me to not move too quickly, but also not stay where i am out of fear of “rocking the boat.”

    it’s times like these i am thankful we have a Great Navigator who knows the next steps i must take, even when i can’t see them for myself…

    • ‘wobbly’ is a great way to describe changing seats in the church leadership boat. good luck in your transition. thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Great word picture of your rafting experience. I think the key is to really know who is steering the boat; what kind of ‘oar’ to they like; will they steer the raft into fast waters that may not be safe, yet be challenging and rewarding? Or will they steer the raft to ‘safe’ waters; where everyone is safe and have a ‘pleasant’ experience? The real question is: how would Jesus pilot the raft?

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