Keeping Your LeaderShip Afloat: 4 Ways to Get Your Head Above Water

Does it sometimes feel like your attempts at leading are like, oh, I don’t know, paddling a half-submerged pumpkin down a river? 

Last weekend I had the privilege of watching people attempt to do exactly that.  Join me for a video of what happened, and some thoughts about how to keep your LeaderShip afloat, even if it seems to have turned into a Great Wallowing Pumpkin.

Keep Your LeaderShip Afloat - 4 Ways to Get Your Head Above Water

It’s the Great Pumpkin (Regatta)!

This past weekend the town of Stillwater, Minnesota, held its annual Harvest Fest.  What makes this event different from so many others?  Gia-normous pumpkins.  In past years, the fest has been a showground for some of the largest pumpkins in the world.

4 Ways to Keep Your LeaderShip Afloat: World Class Pumpkins

But impressive as they are, it’s what they do with these giants that interested me.

People climb into these babies and race them.  Down a river.

So Sunday afternoon, we drove to Stillwater and joined a throng of humanity down at the Saint Croix river.

As we maneuvered for a good viewing position at water’s edge, four athletic looking men squeezed by in front of us.  They were clad in black wetsuits and carrying kayak paddles.  When the crowd caught sight of them they let out a big cheer.

The men lined up next to massive hollowed-out pumpkins sitting on pallets.  It was hard to see the process from where we stood, but one by one, these intrepid pumpkin jockeys mounted their spherical orange steeds and floated out into the river.

Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along…

If you happen to be up on your pumpkin facts, you already know that these orange beauties are about 90% water.  So even hollowed out, with a full grown pumpkin pilot on board, they ride very low.  Just a few inches makes the difference between floating and floundering.

LeaderShip Afloat - Not so much afloat as a-wallow

And when I say “floating,” maybe a better mental image of these giant squashes might be “bobbing” or “wallowing.”

The person with possibly the coolest job was the guy in full SCUBA rig who helped ease these giant veggies into place.

And They’re Off!

When the ponderous pumpkins were finally lined up, the airhorn blared, and the race was on.  The finish line was 100 yards downstream.  Better than words can describe, this video gives a good sense of what happened next.

Keeping Your LeaderShip Afloat – The Takeaway

Great fun, but what’s the leadership angle in all of this, you might ask?  I was wondering that myself.  Here’s what I came up with.

If your leaderShip feels like it has somehow morphed into a clumsy orange gourd wallowing unresponsively in the middle of a river, here are four ways to improve your pumpkin propulsion.

  1. Paddle intentionally.  The way to keep your pumpkin afloat and moving in the direction you want is with deep, intentional strokes. Lots of  shallow, frantic flailing will dump you in the drink faster than you can say, “Bobbing for pumpkins.”  Especially in times of crisis, stay calm, be deliberate, and make each stroke count.
  2. Stay centered.  If you get out of balance with your pumpkin, and especially if you get top-heavy, sooner or later, you’ll get dumped.  Stay low, be humble, and you’ll get there eventually.
  3. It’s not about you.  Keep in mind that ALL parts of your pumpkin are essential; if it weren’t for the parts below the waterline, there would be no floating, and certainly no racing.  So be sure to show some appreciation every day to the people who keep your LeaderShip afloat; especially the ones out of public view.
  4. You need a keel.  People who make boats put keels on them so they go straight.  Without one, every paddle stroke can send the boat in crazy directions and it’s hard to know what to do next.  A clear, shared vision, and cornerstone values are like the keel for your LeaderShip.  They help you steer a straight path, and simplify your decision-making.  If you don’t have a keel for your team, that’s a good place to focus.

Lead with these four ideas in mind from day one, and whatever vessel you are piloting should float high and run straight.

If your boat is already wallowing, the first thing to do is to check for leaks in your trust gap.  Get those plugged ASAP.  Then work on the list above.  With time, persistence, and patience you’ll be able to get your LeaderShip afloat.

Bonus Material – The Pumpkin Drop

As fun as the Pumpkin Regatta was, there was one other thing that was pretty fun to watch.  Did you ever wonder what it looks like when 1,000 pounds of pumpkin fall 50′ to the ground?  Enjoy!  The mad scramble afterwards is people who want the seeds so that maybe they can grow a monster of their own next year.

Keep Your LeaderShip Afloat - SCUBA Pumpkin Machete Guy

Closing thought:  I’m thinking of applying for the job of SCUBA Pumpkin Machete Guy next year.  The job description includes chopping holes in the bottom of swamped pumpkins so the water can drain out when the crane lifts it out of the water.  It just looks cool.

Question:  How do you keep your leadership afloat?

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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