Your (Life) Raft Could Sink You

A traveler was on an epic journey. The kind we have heard about in the writings of antiquity– a hero’s journey of sorts. As he was traveling he encountered a river that was too deep and fast moving to cross without help. The dismayed traveler looked up and down the shore to find a bridge, fallen log, or stones to hop on but nothing was available. Discouraged, he was about to give up when he spied a raft trapped in an eddy behind a large rock. He used the raft to successfully cross the river. Overjoyed with his success, the traveler loaded the raft onto his back and carried it wherever he went, even as he climbed a mountain pass.

∼Derivation of an old Buddhist tale

Imagine carrying a raft wherever you go. It is heavy and cumbersome and would weigh you down or get caught on branches. From our perspective, we can see the traveler was foolish to keep the raft for his entire journey.

But leaders do it. Everyday.

The “raft” represents a successful way to navigate a treacherous situation. Leaders develop ways of leading that bring them success along the way. These rafts are the perfect answer to the situation at the time—the winning strategy.

The difference between effective and ineffective leaders starts with awareness. Effective leaders know when their way of leading (i.e. high control, working around the clock, solving all technical challenges themselves etc.) has outlived its usefulness. They know when to put down their raft and change their game.

What raft(s) are you carrying that have outlived their purpose?

Let’s look at a real CEO and her self-identified raft of needing to win all the time. Her strategy grew a small business into a multimillion dollar business with the potential to double or triple its size in the near term. This is impressive. Her raft was absolutely needed to create and grow the company.

Needing to win all the time has a shadow side too– especially if it is unconscious. In other words, the very things that have brought this CEO success can become a liability if she is blind to them. When she is not aware of her raft:

  • She accelerates pace and complexity, unnecessarily at times, to feed her ego/ drive;
  • She prioritizes accomplishment (winning) over investing in relationships; and,
  • She brings an intensity that is overwhelming and fatiguing to her team.

Clinging to our rafts, or not even knowing they exist can win a leader the battle, but cost her the war – fostering a culture of anxiety or mistrust. Unconsciously needing to win all the time can ultimately lead to the leader being isolated because her team, at a point, may refuse to follow. Ironically, our leader above cares deeply about her people and would feel devastated to lose key members of her team because she pressed to win at all costs.

We use the raft story in our Leadership System™ work. Helping leaders uncover their hidden rafts can help them consciously choose new and more effective winning strategies when their old rafts no longer serve.

So what though?

“Effective leaders outperform ineffective leaders every time”.

~ Bill Adams

Put another way, every percentile increase in overall leadership effectiveness (the collective effectiveness of the senior team) directly correlates to stronger organizational performance.

Can your company really shoulder the burden of outdated rafts? And what would be possible if you consciously put them down sometimes?


Tim Edris of Emerging Leaders Institute and Lisa Chandler of Chandler Coaches are leadership development consultants/coaches whose companies collaborate to improve leadership effectiveness to drive business results.

Leadership Development in the Trenches is a series dedicated to examples of leadership actions that grow business effectiveness. Read the previous post: Leadership Metrics – Game Changers for Improving Leadership/Business Effectiveness.

1 Comment

  1. Angelo Pesce on May 22, 2017 at 9:59 am

    I find the analogy of the raft a little off in that the individual is alone and makes the best decision for his success. Leaders are never alone. They have staff to assist them and that he/she has to consider always. While the solutions to the problems leaders face always need a fresh approach because no two situations are ever identical, the effective leader should never consider him/herself as the only source of the solution.

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