St. Patrick's Day started out cloudy with occasional sprinkles in Lebanon, Kentucky, where I had traveled to visit with my mother, my brother, Jack, and my sister, Sylvia, and her family. Jack and I picked out pictures for my upcoming book, "And my Brother Jack: Everyday Leadership Lessons," and shared a wonderful spaghetti dinner whipped up by Sylvia.
Sprinkles persisted until about 2 p.m. Jack had hauled his canoe from his home in Springfield, Missouri. On his way across Missouri and Kentucky the day before, he stopped and floated the Current River, his 15th trip on that river in this particular canoe.
Jack was determined to also float the Rolling Fork River while we were at Mom's. I thought the weather was iffy but when we arrived at the river's edge, the clouds dispersed and a welcoming sun appeared. We slipped Jack's canoe into the greenish water at the confluence of the Big South Fork and the Rolling North Fork, which come together to make the Rolling Fork River.
Several years had passed since Jack and I had been on this river. We were surprised with some of the changes. The channels we used to take around islands were the lesser ones now. Acres of gravel bars spread on the planed terraces. Sharpened tree stumps told of the presence of beaver in the vicinity. One bit of rustling in the undergrowth caught our attention and we watched as a large otter poked his head out and slid into the water with little urgency.
An hour or so later we caught sight of a number of huge birds gliding aloft. I thought they were black or turkey buzzards but soon we could make out nests of sticks high in a stand of sycamores and we knew it was a great blue heron rookery. We counted and recounted and determined there were twenty nests in all. Jack hushed me as we floated underneath them because they could be sitting on newly laid eggs and he didn't want my chatter to scare them off their nests. This rookery had been built since our last trip on the Rolling Fork River.
The water was swift but not as high as we had expected. A bend in the river or two challenged our skills but Jack as the rudderman and captain of the boat handled them well while ordering a strategic stroke from me when needed.
Although Jack and I had canoed and rafted this river many times, it was a different river this day. Gravel bars had been moved, channels filled in or dug deeper, and new animals had taken up habitation. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, once said, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man." I have always found that saying insightful. As time goes on and we grow with it, leaders are informed by their experiences. However, the best leaders learn from repeated experiences and new ones. Even a familiar task can deliver unknowns like the changing gravel bars of a river. Good leadership requires alertness with the common and the novel because you can never step in the same river twice.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.