Leadership Skills: The Inner Question
by William McGinnis
January 12, 2006
We address the inner question that most people have when venturing into a new adventure sport or activity, and leaving their comfort zone: Am I safe?
At put ins and early on trips, the inner question within most questions asked of river guides by trip members is: "Is this a safe place to be me?" By answering all questions with thoroughness and caring, and by turning all questions into good questions by using them as an opportunity to share genuinely interesting information, aware guides send the message: "Yes, this is indeed a safe place to be just as you are. Everyone here will be treated with respect; you will not be made fun of or put down; here you can relax, be yourself, let your hair down, expand, grow, and even be silly, and still be accepted and appreciated!"
For example, to the common question, "How deep is the river?" a mindful guide might answer: "Thanks for that question! Well, here in this calm at put in the river might be about 15 feet deep, while downriver in that first rapid – and in other rapids further downriver – the depth in many places is much less, maybe as shallow as 6 feet. So, interestingly enough, often there is an inverse relationship between depth and level of challenge. In this 15-foot-deep calm the challenge is low, while in the much shallower rapids the challenge or difficulty (or ease with which one can make mistakes) is much greater."
Another example: A client asks, "So does the river flow back around to this point, so we end up back here?" A thoughtful answer: "Thanks for your question. Many people ask the same thing because all of the water rides they've done have been theme park rides like Disney's Flume ride which do flow back to their starting point. Well, this is an actual, natural river powered by gravity. The water moves because it is flowing downhill, so this water cannot flow back to this point, but can only flow down and down, down out of these mountains – and eventually down to the ocean, which, of course, is at sea level. Still, in a sense, in the big picture, this river actually does flow back to this point. Because rivers flow into the ocean, where water evaporates to form clouds, and clouds float on high in over the land to release rain and snow, and that rain and snow is what feeds this very river. So, yes, the water in this river does in fact flow back to this point! Thanks again for your question, which was fun to answer!"
Bear in mind that to some degree all trip members, either consciously or unconsciously, have this same question – i.e., "Is this a safe place to be?" – and will register the message implicit in your answer! So if you want to be with people who are relaxed, loose, expanding and really having fun, answer all questions with thoroughness, patience, acceptance and appreciation!
The above is an excerpt from Bill's new book The Guide's Guide Augmented. The definitive how-to book on professional guiding, The Guide's Guide Augmented has the latest scoop on safety, rescue, entertainment, guide training and much more. To learn more about Bill's books, river trips, and 2-, 5-, & 7-day guide schools, visit WhitewaterVoyages.com or call 800-400-RAFT.
" We took your 1-day South Fork American raft trip and had a wonderful time. Our group leader did a great job of instructing and organizing us, but he was also instrumental in creating the friendly atmosphere that surrounded us the entire day. Thank you! "
- Marilyn Skinner