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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

A Leadership Lesson: If General Motors Was A Canoe…

Make that an aluminum canoe: 18-feet long and weighing 83 pounds with no one and nothing in it. That’s precisely what my husband and I had for our last foray into Lac La Croix at the boundary waters between the US and Canada. Our friends decided to use their tandem ocean kayak that had room for not much more than water bottles.  Guess which watercraft became the you-haul-um barge for tents, backpacks, waterproof food barrel, and sleeping bags.  We are now floating a few hundred pounds in our canoe! My husband insisted on taking the stern, giving him the power of the rudder. Yours truly had the front.  Now, in our normal lighter canoes, I would have had some ability to influence our direction.  Forget it when you’re sitting in this unwieldy and heavy canoe. All I could do was paddle. The more I paddled, hour after hour, the more disillusioned and upset I became. It was mindless, boring, and absolutely galley slave work. At least when Bill fished from the back, he got diversion. Not me: Paddle. Paddle. Paddle.

He’d say, “What do you think about going to the left by the rock ledge?” I wanted to revolt. It didn’t matter what I “thought”. He had all the control and my job was paddle, paddle, paddle. Thus this post was born. The canoe reminded me of a large, inflexible organization. I represented the lowest level employee. My brain was not used. My opinions didn’t matter. I had no opportunity to move “back” and get training in another position. Nope. Just paddle, paddle, paddle. I understand now why I hear some employees say, “It’s just a job. I put in my time and then I am out of there.”  Or “No one asks my opinion. It doesn’t matter what I think”  Or, “There’s no job advancement.” I found myself inventing a diversion: map reading. I became the expert at reading the topography of the islands, finding the campsites, navigating us back to our tents.  Phew. It saved the trip and probably saved a marriage. Bill also handed the stern over to me for the last day so I could “learn” the helm. Smart man at last! Which brings up a final lesson: one can’t learn leadership overnight. It takes practice.  I had to discover just how to use the paddle as a rudder when winds swept us sideways. I had to test how much tension to put into different turns. I was not always successful. Would love to hear your thoughts! Any insights pop up? Let me know. Have you thrown someone into a leadership capacity without time to train, to try, to fail, and try again?

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