Harmony and Rhythm With My Paddle

Type: Article
Topics: Leadership Development, School Administrator Magazine

February 01, 2019

President's Corner
WHEN OUR LOCAL community college invited me to serve on a panel as part of the leader development program for employees, I accepted enthusiastically.

The discussion was both lively and informative. The final question we were asked was how leaders can achieve a work/life balance. My response was quick and blunt and may have surprised attendees: I don’t think it’s possible to achieve work/life balance.

To me, balance implies equality. Think about a balance scale in your science classrooms. Balance is achieved only when the mass on both sides is equal — a relatively impossible thing to attain when the elements are work and personal life.

So rather than thinking in terms of balancing work and life, I strive to achieve a work/life harmony or rhythm.

The superintendent’s job is tough. We are on call 24/7/365. With the ebbs and flows of all that goes on in our districts, it can be difficult to establish and maintain a sustained work/life harmony or rhythm, in large part because it’s hard to turn off the work aspect. But it’s important to do just that and I do it by being outdoors — most often in a canoe or kayak.

In July 2007, an educator friend and I started paddling canoes at least once a month — sometimes together, sometimes separately. Since then, I have missed only 10 months — three because I was recovering from surgery and two due to frozen rivers.

In many ways, paddling strategies (life) can be likened to leadership strategies (work). Consider these commonalities:

» HAVE A VISION OF WHERE YOU WANT TO GO.When paddling, we often get out of our boats to scout ahead. We take adequate time to see what we will be facing down the river and develop a strategy to make it through safely. If the water ahead looks too dangerous, we go around.

As paddlers and leaders, it is important to keep our eye on where we want to go; when we look at the rocks, we tend to hit them. We must take note of them, but then look beyond. Move forward with a plan and stage safety measures along the way.

» BE PREPARED.Each rainfall can change a river a little bit, and a flood can change it a lot, making a once-safe passage too dangerous to attempt. On our local whitewater river, a rock moved slightly after a big flood, and a colleague, despite being a very talented and respected paddler, went through the slot as usual and came away with a few broken ribs.

We must know where we are going, be flexible, be aware of all possibilities, and go forth with caution.

» KEEP YOUR PADDLE ENGAGED.You want to use the current to your advantage, so keeping your paddle in the water and actively engaged helps you understand what the water is doing. It also helps you to maintain balance and keep you right side up.

We always must be listening, fully engaged so we know where the current is taking us — and where we want it to take us.

» DON’T GO IT ALONE. Boy Scout Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat trainings speak to the importance of having a buddy. I always paddle with someone else. Sometimes I don’t know who that will be until I get to the river, but I won’t go alone.

When I paddle with someone more skillful, I learn all I can from them and may push my boundaries a bit knowing they are my safety. Other times I’m the more experienced paddler in the group, providing for the safety of others.

Paddling helps me maintain a harmony and rhythm — and also helps me put leadership strategies into action outdoors. I hope you have a passion that fulfills you in the same way.