I am back refreshed from one of my favorite pastimes—kayaking—in Algonquin Park, nearly 8,000 square kilometers (3,000 square miles) of pristine wilderness in Ontario, Canada. Nature’s energy in a river or a Northern lake is deeply nourishing to my soul—a meditation and connection with the essence of the Earth. And it provides a metaphor for leadership.
If you study whitewater enthusiasts, especially those with great skills, you’ll notice that they never argue with the water. One of the earliest lessons kayakers and canoeists learn is that there is no gain in opposing the natural forces of the water—water has far greater power than most humans can muster. Mastery of whitewater skills does not mean “mastering” the rapids—they cannot be overwhelmed by force or controlled. Instead, whitewater experts learn how to read the authenticity of the water—interpreting the innate energy of the rapids—and then they learn how to ride the power of the water, using the muscles of the rapids to carry them safely forwards. This is a metaphor for life. Whitewater is a permanent condition for most of us. We can attempt the futile: trying to overwhelm the energy; or we can harness and ride it: flowing with the energy. Flowing with the energy requires less effort and engages the powerful forces that are moving in the direction in which you wish to travel anyway.
Authenticity is like the whitewater: read the original, authentic source of power, recognize it, and ride it. When we try to fight it—as in life, when we try to fight our inner truths, our authenticity—it simply becomes an obstacle course, and eventually it will undo us and spill us into the turbulence.
The rule for life is to follow the energy—this enables us to become authentic.
We all yearn for authentic leaders who can be trusted to do as they say, who flow with the natural energy of their inner truths. Authentic leaders have an air of transparency about them. And followers want conscious leaders who are clear about what they stand for, what their values are, and who live these values consistently. These are leaders who follow “The Whitewater Rule”, reading, then following the energy and the result is authentic leadership.