The 5 People You Want in Your Canoe

Whether you’re figuring out a critical business problem, working on a complex project or exploring a creative vision, the people on your team can make all the difference. The journey to success begins by bringing together a mix of individuals who can work cohesively, strategically and effectively towards a common goal.

But far too often I see smart leaders stumble by surrounding themselves with people who are just like them. The problem is that someone who reflexively says “yes!” to everything and never (diplomatically) questions the rationale behind your ideas and direction can’t help you identify the blind spots that lead to costly errors and wasted time.

Sure, a go-along-to-get-along mentality is a wonderful trait to seek in a travel buddy, but it can be decidedly less helpful in the business world.

I believe diverse perspectives can be one of the greatest assets of a financial organization. While spending a day in a canoe with folks who are similar to you may sound like a recipe for smooth sailing, there is great benefit in engaging with people who can offer vastly different perspectives. It’s like the principle of diversification, just for people.

So who do you want as team members in your canoe?

  1. The Go-getter. The Go-getter initiates change and challenges the status quo. She looks for possibilities. While it’s comfortable to repeat what is familiar, this person looks for new and exciting routes to reach the same destination. She brings a strong element of creativity to the team and isn’t afraid to take smart risks — and encourages others to do the same. The Go-getter is always on the lookout for faster, cheaper, more efficient — and, yes, more interesting — ways of doing things. This Go-getter’s attitude leads to profitable change.
  1. The Optimist. Every trip needs an optimist — someone to boost morale, offer words of encouragement, see possibility over probability, and lift the team when it faces adverse conditions or falls short. Unlike a cliché-spewing Pollyanna, The Optimist is clear-eyed and can bring out the best in others and boost spirits in an authentic way.
  1. The Skeptic. The Skeptic might be the most important person in your canoe. He’s the one to voice concern about where you’re headed and what could go wrong. He might question ideas, timetables, routes, and even the ultimate destination. At times, his views might seem like a wet blanket to your vision, but his objections can actually help clarify it by forcing you to consider potential pitfalls. The Skeptic doesn’t play devil’s advocate at every turn, but understands when it’s time to speak up. In the end, The Skeptic can help kill a bad idea before it capsizes your canoe, while making really good ideas even better. Listen to his concerns and appreciate his cautious perspective.
  1. The Experienced Guide.Tapping into the knowledge and wisdom of someone who has traveled the river before can be a huge benefit. This is a person who has “been there, done that” and has a wealth of time-tested experience. She has been lost, flipped her canoe, and righted it once again. She can bring valuable life lessons to light. This person can act as a mentor and pass on insights from her successes — and failures. As the saying goes, “A smart man learns from his mistakes; a wise one learns from the mistakes of others.”
  1. The Coordinator.The Coordinator has a unique ability to take a large and complicated goal and systematically break it down into distinct steps. He can see the big picture and the finer points, and is equipped to get you from point to point as expeditiously as possible. He understands how all the team members fit together and can map out the responsibilities for all involved.

While it may be comfortable to choose teammates that are most like us, it is more difficult but exponentially more rewarding to assemble a diverse team that challenges, supports and guides one another toward a compelling destination. Remember: Traversing even the most serene and scenic waters with the wrong people can be a nightmare. Before you dive into your next major project, take a step back and ask yourself this question: “Who do I need in my canoe?” Then find the right team members and paddle on. You’re burning daylight!

Would I spend a day in a canoe with you?
Ask this simple question. Gain profound insight.

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