Experience life to better understand situations

In July of 1995, I flew to Seattle and took a bus to Vancouver to catch a Holland America cruise to Alaska by way of the Inside Passage. The bus overheated once but with some rest on the side of the road and some comic relief from a guy from Tennessee and me, we finally made it.

My third day began with a two-hour kayak trip on a strait nearby the town of Ketchikan. Rain and a thick mist hung over the bay. I saw purple ochre and brown bat starfish, pink sea anemones, and sea cucumbers. I kayaked up a small stream, which only 10 days later would have a thriving salmon run. A few early arrivals over three feet long were already staking out their claim for the spawning rush.

On day four, I traveled to the Mendenhall Glacier. It had an impressive blue color with waterfalls cascading down the mountain to the glacier’s right side. The water was a milky color and, of course, very cold at about 33 degrees.

Finally, I joined several dozen other tourists in rubber rafts and started across the Mendenhall Lake formed at the base of the glacier and partook of a two-hour trip down the Mendenhall River. Splashes from class two rapids chilled us to the bone even though we had raincoats and rubber boots on. Dozens of eagles in the nearby trees watched us with little interest as they waited for a fisherman to finish cleaning his fish on the river bank.

Day five was the most impressive of the trip. The boat sailed into Glacier Bay for a close-up of a number of glaciers. It was so cold I had to run back to my room to get a pair of socks to protect my hands. Tons of ice calved from the face of the glacier into the milky water with thunderous claps. Bay seals sunned themselves on various ice flows. The boat parked in front of Margerie Glacier for over 20 minutes. An eerie hush fell over the ship as everyone soaked in the rare, amazing view. On the left-hand side, a river bubbled up like a boiling spring at the glacier’s face. Sea gulls circled the muddy water created by this runoff in order to snag shrimp.

I had read about Southeast Alaska and viewed television programs about the wildlife of the area. It always seemed to be a fascinating place. However, being there exceeded everything I had learned about the area. A temperate rainforest and several inches of luxurious moss everywhere you went were striking.

Good leaders know that experience helps you understand problems and potential solutions far better than reading theories about the situation. If you are there and dealing with it in real life, often everything is different than you expect. When encountering challenging situations seek to involve those who have been there before.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s book, The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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