Leadership lessons from the row boat

  • October 31, 2017
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 2 minute read

Leadership happens everywhere in an organization, and good leaders are always leading, even when they are not in charge.

—David Allston, Fellow, Bauer Leadership Center

This month the inaugural class of the Bauer Leadership Fellows Program, which provides leadership development training for students in Practicum consulting teams, traveled to Creve Coeur Lake in West St. Louis County  to learn the sport of rowing from WashU Coach Andrew Black.

The fellows were divided in two groups to navigate the trials and tribulations of teamwork.

To some, rowing may seem unrelated to business leadership, but the Bauer Fellows quickly connected the dots and uncovered important takeaways. Here’s what fellows Molly Goldstein and David Allston learned while rowing on the lake:

1. Leadership requires trust and humor

Teams build a stronger rapport by being light-hearted, getting to know one another, and cracking a joke when necessary. With this stronger camaraderie, Molly noticed that the fellows trusted each other more in the harder moments of exercise. As a leader, she finds it crucial to foster spaces where the team can build rapport, since trust is essential for team success.

2. Communication is key to navigating a difficult situation

The fellows had limited knowledge of rowing terms and maneuvers that would help them move together on the water. But through trial and error, they found a rhythm of words and gestures that allowed them to communicate well and, ultimately, win the race. As a leader, Molly knows she will encounter teams who struggle to communicate. She believes a part of her role will include supporting the team though the initial hardship of finding common language to improve project execution.

3. Be patient and humble

Both Molly and David highlighted that it is okay to be a beginner—and when your team faces a new experience, it is important as a leader to have patience. Molly says:

Rowing is something I’d never tried before—and I don’t think I’ll be ready for competition any time soon! But the challenge of a new task is something any good leader seeks. As a leader, I will encourage myself (and my team) to find opportunities to try new things and find new strengths we didn’t know we had.

—Molly Goldstein, Fellow, Bauer Leadership Center

When it came to David’s experience in the boat, he noticed that the veteran rowers acted as strong leaders; instead of being hard on the novice rowers, they pointed out mistakes and supported the team. Contrarily, the other team did not feel this same support and were left frustrated and disengaged. David concluded that patient leaders are crucial to making a team feel excited, engaged, and valued.

David noted, “Leadership happens everywhere in an organization, and good leaders are always leading, even when they are not in charge.”

In unfamiliar situations, think through how you can communicate better, build trust and camaraderie, and be patient—you too could be a leader, anywhere, when the time arises.

Guest Blogger: Allison Halpern, BSBA ’18.

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