1_51015 years ago I became a self-proclaimed outdoor girl when I moved from the plains of Oklahoma to the mountains and canyons of Utah! My first passion was skiing, then hiking and some river rafting, add in a bit of trail running with some mountain biking and I thought I had pretty much dialed in a good outdoor lifestyle. Then came a weekend in southern Utah where I reached my capacity for hiking and route finding on the trails in southern Utah. After a long, tiring, thirsty and sand in your shoes day I stumbled into Escalante Outfitters to regroup. It was there I met the owners Dennis and Dana Waggoner, and as things go in small towns, I was referred to Rick Green and Amie Fortin at Excursions of Escalante. At Excursions of Escalante I learned about Canyoneering – where you rappel and down climb your way into and out of slot canyons. I hired Rick Green to go out canyoneering and plain old hiking was ruined forever! I have been canyoneering for a few years now, it is a glorious way to see what southern Utah has to offer.

The point of this blog is not to profess the merits of canyoneering (although I could fill a blog on that topic) or convince you to visit the wonderful area in southern Utah called Escalante (but it should be on your list of places to visit). Instead, I hope to share what I learned about leadership while hosting a women’s canyoneering weekend retreat.

When you go canyoneering with Rick there are a few important items that soon become important to you as you navigate the canyon. These concepts also apply to leadership.

In the beginning Rick promotes the concept of Slow and Steady from the first rappel, to down climbing in the canyon, to the hike out everything is slow and steady. Most leaders tend to be stuck in fast and ready – be alert, ready and able to do it faster and faster to be at the top of their game. I encourage leaders to reframe their view of fast and ready to slow and steady so as to promote the space to think and be creative. In canyoneering, slow and steady is important for correctly clipping into your rappel line, taking your time when down climbing to problem solve the correct course of action, making sure communication commands are used so everyone in the sequence is ready and (most importantly) taking time to absorb the beauty of the canyons and take pictures! Fast and ready often produces costly mistakes and does not allow for being in the moment which can make it difficult to endorse the good efforts of team members. When individuals are rushed and in a fast and ready state they tend to be more anxious. According to the latest brain science, when individuals are in an anxious state the prefrontal cortex (higher level reasoning, problem solving and creativity) begins to shut down, thus, we become less smart! When we are less smart, we make lower quality decisions and more mistakes.

Another mantra you hear while with Rick is One Thing at a Time. If you want to take a picture, stop, get the camera out, take the picture, put the camera back and starting walking. The canyon floors are rocky, slippery and uneven, so do one thing at a time and stay safe. How, in a world of technology and competing demands can leaders possibly uphold this perspective? Leaders often think their reputation is built upon getting things done. The distinction is quality vs. quantity. Brain science indicates the brain can only focus well on one thing at a time, which means when multitasking our decisions, relationships and outcomes are impaired. Relationally, when individuals are not being given someone’s full attention the brain patterns and categorizes the current information it has and oftentimes wrong conclusions are made about the behavior of others. This can mean team members feel their input is not important or they just don’t believe they are worth the leader’s full attention and investment all of which can have devastating impacts on performance and productivity. Leaders who multitask produce more errors and mistakes, which impacts their reputation and performance.

Finally, Rick teaches us about Partner Assists. In the corporate world it is called collaborative teamwork using a strengths-based approach. Canyoneering is a team sport you can’t (or shouldn’t) really do it alone. Partner assists are used in down climbing where you use the narrow canyon walls and your body to squeeze, slide and move your way down the canyon. Sequencing is very important when using partner assists. Sequencing is sizing up the team and determining who is needed when and where in the sequence as it relates to height, strength, agility and experience. Leaders are no different as they put together teams, they must consider not only the strengths of the individuals but how to utilize those strengths in the best possible manner. Leaders put together teams of capable individuals but often fail to coach them in working together. A leader’s role is two-fold, put together the right team with the right strengths and then coach them to work together for maximum efficiency and effectiveness (sequencing).

When leaders slow down and focus everyone becomes smarter! Leaders who support those on their team through a strengths-based coaching approach produce stronger performance and productivity within their teams.

What kind of leader are you?

Want to get out and learn experientially, contact me today to find out about our upcoming women’s retreats and leadership courses using the canyons of Escalante as your classroom trigena@me.com or 801.915.4046.