Leadership Training on the River Chile

One of the reasons I wanted to join the Symantec Service Corps, besides to do good, was to work on my own leadership skills in a completely different context. I’ve had a lot of classic leadership training both at Symantec and prior at Adobe, but nothing can match the challenge of immersing yourself in a foreign country with 10 people you don’t know to accomplish a goal in only four weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership while here and today, while rafting down the River Chile, a few “lessons learned” became more clear to me.

A few of us chose to put go down the River Chile on rafts—it was a lot of fun and for me, a challenge.  There were five of us to start (Joe Ferrar, Prakash P P, Allyson Gomez, Craig Chan, and me) and when we got to the river, we had to split into two different teams. We were debating who would go into which boat when the Guide simply said “you three—over there. You two, there.”  We obeyed.  When I headed toward the boat, it occurred to me that this is the first, and easiest, leadership style. You’re the boss and you tell people what to do and they do it.

The “You two, there” was directed at me and Craig Chan. Craig is an experienced river rafter and the two of us were instructed to go to the front of the boat. Our guide, Alvaro, was in the back steering the boat. Alvaro explained that he’d tell us when and how to paddle: forward, back, left back, and stop. Alvaro was the expert—he river rafts all the time and when he said forward, I paddled forward. When he said stop, I stopped.

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Alvaro, our guide

 

It occurred to me that this is a second style of leadership—knowing when to listen to experts. As a leader, I believe in hiring experts in their field because I can’t possibly know everything. It’s my job to give those experts what they need to excel and to listen to them when we’re moving quickly through a Level 4 rapid and they yell “Stop!”

As two people in the front, Craig and I had to synchronize our paddling. Craig is experienced and he explained a few tips and tricks before we left. All throughout the trip we had to try and time our paddling—as the more experience rafter I tried to just follow his lead.

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Craig Chan and I paddling

There were a few times when he followed mine. It really depended on when the command came and where the rocks were. To me, this represented a third style of leadership: teamwork. There may be times, as a leader, that you have to just roll your sleeves up and coordinate your paddling. It doesn’t mean you’re diminishing your role as a leader. In fact, you’re strengthening it.

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Craig Chan and I holding on

The biggest challenge I had was listening to the guide while trying to coordinate my paddling with Craig. Alvaro would say “forward” and by the time that registered and I coordinated my paddling with Craig, Alvaro would say “stop!” I realized this was another style of leadership—the ability to react quickly to different leaders and different conditions. As a leader, you have to be quick and adjust so you’re in sync and moving forward.

My experience with the Symantec Service Corps has been a great training ground for leadership. The context alone has caused me to try new techniques—to step back when I need to step back and to step up when I need to step up—an excellent skill to take home and continue to develop.

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We hit a rock and had a wild ride

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