day in a canoe

Would I spend a day in a canoe with you?

A simple question. A powerful framework for building effective teams and strong professional relationships.


The Power of ‘No’

You can’t say “yes” to everyone and everything.

On some level, we all know this to be true. Yet many executives, business leaders and managers seem to have a “yes” addiction.

And that can create all kinds of problems for your business, your employees, your schedule, and your mental health.

I completely get how it happens. You adopt a service-mindset early on because great service is how you generate engagement with any stakeholder you’re dealing with – whether it’s a current customer, potential client, professional in your network, or a staff member. “Yes” essentially becomes the answer to every question asked and every idea posed.

I can say I have absolutely seen people build successful businesses based on this principle and mindset. But I’ve also seen a fair share of those businesses flame out as their leaders burn out.

Do you have a tendency to say yes only to end up feeling either overextended, resentful or quickly full of regret? Beyond a commitment to service at all costs, here are the two other main reasons why I believe most people can’t easily say no – along with some tips on how to make a change.  READ FULL ARTICLE >


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What is Day In A Canoe?

Have you ever looked forward to an exciting business- or career-related development only to have it turn out to be a huge disappointment? Have you placed your hope in someone only to be let down? Have you set realistic expectations only to be frustrated by lack of progress? These disappointments are experienced all too often in many areas of professional life. It’s enough to make you wonder whether investing in relationships is a path to possibilities or an exercise in futility.

“Day in a canoe” is a metaphor for evaluating and managing relationships. Compatibility is necessary for relationships of every kind to be successful. Decisions involving your business, advisors, family and friends occur every day. Each decision carries consequence. While there’s always a risk of disappointment, I learned years ago that you can take steps to improve the potential for a positive outcome.  READ FULL ARTICLE >

The 5 People You Want in Your Canoe

feature_canoe2Whether 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. READ FULL ARTICLE >

People to Keep Out of Your Canoe at All Costs

feature_canoe3While a relaxing day in a canoe can sound appealing, it can quickly turn sour if you don’t enjoy the people you’re with. Building relationships with quality people is essential for success. The wrong person on the team can spoil the entire group dynamic. Your results will be mediocre and much of your time will be filled with frustration as you deal with the bad apple.

As you build your financial organization and pursue your goals, think carefully about who should be in your canoe. After all, you are a reflection of the company you keep. There are lots of people to steer clear of. Here are a few examples of red flags to watch for: READ FULL ARTICLE >

What Do You Need to Thrive?

Feature_Canoe_leadership“What do I really need to thrive and be happy as a leader?” It’s probably a question you should be asking yourself from time to time. However, do you actually do it? There are times when recharging is necessary after a long canoe ride.

It can be challenging to “get reflective” when life is extremely busy and you’re constantly balancing competing priorities. But over time, hour after hour gets gobbled up by other people and eventually, you find yourself resentful or in an emotional rut. While things may appear fine on the surface, you begin to realize that you’re not operating as your best self.

Sound familiar? READ FULL ARTICLE >

4 Proven Ways to Attract Talent to Your Financial Organization

feature_recruiting_teamWhat makes good people want to work for you? Is it a competitive paycheck, generous benefits and cool perks? Sure, an attractive compensation package and appealing extras are certainly a big part of the recruiting equation for employers and hiring managers. But there’s a lot more to it. Over the course of my career I have found time and again that the best job candidates are looking for more. They want to work for an organization with a clear mission and a truly team-oriented culture. They desire the opportunity to fully utilize their skills — and seek the encouragement to hone new ones.

The bottom line is that attracting and retaining top talent is essential if your financial company is going to be successful. Here are my tips for recruiting (and keeping) the best of the best: READ FULL ARTICLE >

Don’t Be a Hippo

feature_hippoI’m a sucker for a good analogy and I recently heard one that’s stuck with me. In fact, it’s helping me shift my approach to how I communicate with and lead my team. While at a powerful and intensive Stanford Graduate School of Business executive training event, my fellow attendees and I were instructed not to behave like hippos when we returned to our respective companies across the globe.



Then I got it. As we were reminded, a hippo has a really big mouth but small ears. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had unfortunately adopted some hippo-like habits: talking at people, not with them. I had allowed ambitious goals to pull me off track. I was regularly speaking to my talented team members, but doing less listening. I recognized that, at times, I was acting like someone with a big mouth and small ears. READ FULL ARTICLE >

The Unexpected Skills Financial Advisors Need to Succeed

Canoe_SoftSkillsThere are certain skills and traits that financial advisors absolutely must possess. If you’re an employer, it’s critical that you keep a close eye out for these strengths and characteristics when evaluating job candidates.

What are these key selling points to look for?

A financial advisor obviously needs to be able to help clients solve financial problems, avoid pitfalls, get organized and save time. And advisors today absolutely need to be equally adept with numbers and people. OK, so that’s always been the case. But I wholeheartedly believe the “good with people” aspect is increasingly crucial for financial firms to demonstrate from top to bottom if they are to win business in an industry rife with change and disruption. READ FULL ARTICLE >

5 Steps to Take When Your Canoe Hits Rough Waters

Canoe_RoughWatersLife, like a canoe trip, is a lot easier to manage during sunny days. But as we all know, life is not always clear skies and calm waters.

In many ways, hitting some unexpected rapids at work is like a stress test for you and those you’ve welcomed into your proverbial canoe. No matter how hard you try, as a business leader you are at times going to face turbulence — whether it comes in the form of relationship rough patches, highly problematic projects, client concerns or any number of other vexing issues that can arise despite your best-laid plans.

Here are five tips on how to navigate when things get choppy: READ FULL ARTICLE >

Feature_Canoe_LessonsLearned2017The 5 Biggest Lessons I Learned This Year

This time of year is always busy, but if you give yourself permission to slow down a little it can also be a valuable season of self-reflection. As I optimistically look ahead to 2018, I’ve been contemplating the top lessons I learned in 2017. I’m hopeful there are some takeaways that you might find useful too. READ FULL ARTICLE >

You Can’t Move From Point A to Point B with C Players

Tips on Retaining and Hiring the Best People

Feature_Canoe_RetainingHireNew year, new goals. If you’re like many leaders, you’re focused on your lofty business objectives for 2018 and assessing if you have the right team in place to help you reach them. Here are my tips for making sure that this year you 1) keep your very best performers and 2) bring aboard top-notch new employees.

Pay Attention to Retention

You can’t move your firm from Point A to Point B if you have C players on your team. To continue the letter-based metaphors, one approach I recommend when looking at your current staff is to make a list and place each team member in an A, B, or C bucket. READ FULL ARTICLE >

What Will You Stop Doing?

02-PA_2018_stopAre you an organizational leader drowning in a river of to-do lists? If so, perhaps it’s time to create a will-not-do list.

Leaders have no shortage of demands on their time and energy. As such, it’s easy to stick with “the known” – to continue following certain legacy habits even when they no longer benefit you, your employees or your overall firm.

There’s a reason why business leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Because no matter your goal, navigating change and getting to that next level will absolutely require you to change and adapt. But “change” doesn’t always involve taking new actions; sometimes it’s simply about not doing things. Sometimes you add by subtracting. READ FULL ARTICLE >

How Many Rabbits Are You Chasing?

Dog_Rabbit_Canoe_WebThere’s an old proverb that says the person who chases two rabbits catches neither.

So, how many rabbits do you typically chase at one time?

For many of us, the answer is simply “too many.” Faced with an array of competing demands it’s easy for leaders to get pulled in any number of directions. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.ut in many cases, it can be due to impatience, a lack of discipline, “shiny object syndrome,” or the fear of disappointment. Regardless of the cause, constantly switching from initiative to initiative can come at a cost. READ FULL ARTICLE >

How and Why to Run the ‘Canoe Test’

As I’ve often noted, “Would I spend a day in a canoe with you?” is a question that’s a metaphor for evaluating and managing relationships. Based on feedback I’ve received about the blog, my talks on the subject and my recently launched podcast, the canoe concept is resonating. But today I wanted to delve into some frequently asked questions and unpack some of the different ways in which the “canoe test” can help you make better decisions.


The Power of Empowerment

EMPOWERMENT — It’s a buzzword that gets tossed around a lot in today’s business world but what does it really mean in practice? Merriam-Webster defines the term as “the granting of the power, right, or authority to do something.”

While leaders often talk about empowerment, many don’t fully put their money where their mouth is when dealing with employees and clients.

At Planning Alternatives, we try not to overuse the phrase “empowering others,” but it is the mindset that guides our actions. Here’s some insight around how you can gain an edge by making empowerment a driving principle …  READ FULL ARTICLE >

How ‘Radical Open-Mindedness’ Helps You in the Canoe

Before you begin reading this blog post, I have a question for you: Are you open-minded to becoming a more open-minded leader and decision-maker?

Seriously think about it.

Still here?

OK, good.

Being truly open-minded to different ideas is incredibly important, but it’s not a quality that’s always as prized in the workplace as it should be. Many leaders like to think they’re more open-minded to alternative viewpoints than they truly are. For example, I can now see that when making critical business decisions, I historically would place greater value on my conviction and viewpoint. I wasn’t close-minded, per se, but I could get entrenched in a position when I should have been exploring options in conflict with my opinion. Perhaps you can relate.  READ FULL ARTICLE >

What I’ve Learned This Year

As much as I love to look ahead, I always make a concerted effort to look back around this time of year. Here are some things I’ve learned in 2018 that are guiding my planning for 2019. Hopefully, you’ll find some useful nuggets that you can incorporate into your management toolbox in the year ahead:  READ FULL ARTICLE >


Words of Wisdom from Branding Guru Leslie Sims

Leslie Sims is one of the most influential and well-known creative professionals in the country. She was recently named the Chief Creative Officer in the U.S. for Ogilvy, one of the world’s most iconic advertising, marketing and PR agencies. She was previously a top creative executive with Young & Rubicam and McCann – both creative industry heavyweights. You have no doubt encountered her work. She’s the brainchild of the famed “Easy Button” campaign from Staples. She’s also done award-winning brand messaging work for big-name companies such as Verizon, Avis, MasterCard, Dell and General Mills to name just a few. READ FULL ARTICLE >

About Nathan Mersereau

Nathan_CanoeNathan Mersereau is President of Planning Alternatives, but he’s also known as the “Canoe Guy.” He believes there’s a powerful business case to be made for authentically forging meaningful connections with employees, colleagues and clients. Nathan uses his canoe question as a metaphor to help people evaluate and manage professional relationships. He frequently speaks about this topic at leadership conferences and industry events. He launched this blog to further the discussion and share insights on how to boost business by being people-focused. Learn more about Nathan’s 20-plus years in the financial industry here.

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