Learning to Lead With a Canoe on My Back

What determines great leadership? When does someone become a great leader? I’ve pondered these questions often as an I/O Psychologist and an aspiring leader. Here is my journey.

I started to see myself as a leader during an Outward Bound excursion. Outward Bound is a nonprofit that provides “hands-on” education in the most literal way – through outdoor adventures that are designed to test your resiliency. This group adventure was the Pathfinder Boundary Waters Canoeing & Backpacking expedition in Minnesota; basically, you pay $8,000 to suffer for 300+ miles in under 30 days. This “adventure” is brutal to the unprepared and forces the individual to build a strong will. To give it a better visual, you are balancing a huge canoe on your back or a huge backpacking bag, both weighing between 50-125 lbs.

During my time in the Boundary Waters, I was a source of positivity and motivation for the group. Luckily, I was already in decent shape because of a consistent exercise routine. Some of my group members were not so fortunate and were having a difficult time carrying their share. Doing well on my own developed me into one of the leaders of the group. I was someone people could lean on when the rough got…well, rougher, and as much as I could, I provided support physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We were a team and I wanted everyone to have an enjoyable experience.

We were not completely on our own; this Outward Bound course provided us with two leaders who were trained specialists and have completed this course multiple times. The goal of the expedition was to develop everyone’s resiliency and to develop leadership skills by rotation. Most of the time on the expedition, I found that sharing experiences and telling stories was a great module to get people motivated.

Pursuing these large goals is certainly more attainable with a team built around a belief, value, or concept. High motivation, success, and perseverance are common qualities of a leader. Good leaders are examples for the team. As I can quote from one of my class readings, “A compelling purpose energizes team members, orients them toward their collective objective, and fully engages their talents” (Hackman, 2012, p. 437) To be a leader, one must understand a multitude of solutions; to reach a goal, leaders provide paths for followers to trek. Great leaders teach people how to be good leaders. Read More…

The Power of Caring For Your Team

Caring for your team

Nowadays it’s almost impossible to visit any business-related website without seeing headlines about the great resignation the great reshuffling the great reevaluation or some other term that’s being used to describe the rapid changes in employment happening around the country. Authors, consultants, and business leaders are all offering opinions and solutions for improving recruiting and retention that can help organizations react to the increased competition for talent. And there is an abundance of really good advice on improving employee experience to drive retention. Increased flexibility in work locations and hours, more autonomy and better professional development offerings are frequently recommended as necessary approaches for organizations navigating the current turbulence.  While all of these actions will certainly help, recent research by McKinsey suggests that there may be another, more important factor at play in retention decisions of your employees.

According to the McKinsey survey, the number one reason people are leaving jobs when they don’t have another job to go to: uncaring leaders. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the pandemic has ratcheted up stress levels and challenged even the most resilient employees to balance perceived threats to their physical and emotional wellbeing with personal, family, and job expectations, we should expect that individual’s need to feel seen and supported by their supervisors and leaders throughout their organization would also increase. And as such, a key responsibility of any leader must be to demonstrate that they genuinely care about their teams. If you want to amplify the care you have for your team, here are a few strategies: Read More…

Going Slow To Go Fast

Going Fast to Go Slow

In a recent discussion with one of my colleagues, she compared the work she is doing with teams to rebooting her computer. Every once in a while, we realize that we have opened so many files, folders, web pages, and software programs in the course of our work and life that things just aren’t operating as smoothly and quickly as we might expect. To get things back in working order, we need to carve out some time to reboot- to close everything out and to start over. To go slow in order to go fast again.


When this happens, and it happens to all of us, you have a couple of options. First, you can ignore it and muddle through, hoping to avoid the dreaded “blue screen of death”. You can shut the computer down and walk away. Or, you can take a pause, reboot, and clear the decks of all of those things that are no longer serving you well. Read More…

Podcast: Going Slow to Go Fast

gothamCulture Podcast

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast about her experience realigning teams after disruptive events. Like those of us who keep way too many applications open on our computers for too long, slowing our ability to get things done, sometimes our teams can experience the same effect when grappling with mounting priorities and disruption. When that happens, it may be time to reboot.

Show notes: Shawn references an interview with Storied CEO Michael Margolis titled Storytelling in the Age of Disruption