The definition of a Canadian, according to the late Pierre Berton, was "somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe." That confidence in managing the outdoors so as to achieve a desired goal is also an enduring characteristic of great leaders.
The CEO of a large construction firm told me about his travails in hiring the right CFO for his high growth business. “Once I know they can do the finance requirements, then I want to take them outside and back up a tractor trailer or get them in a canoe and capsize it in the middle of the lake.”
“Why on earth would that add to the skills of a CEO?” I asked.
“Because that is about being able to cope when suddenly pushed out of your comfort zone,” he said. “How do you react? Do you freeze and avoid? Or can you calm yourself and decide on a rapid course of action where you might not have all the answers? Are you willing to try the untried but keep your head?” Someone who has done outdoor living – camping, fishing, hiking – is used to planning, organizing and doing. There is also the confidence that they can manage if they run into an unknown situation. To head off into the outdoors, you can not help but develop these qualities.
Interesting enough, out of the 294 candidates selected to be NASA astronauts between 1959 and 2003, over 200 had been active in Scouting (and 11 of the 12 astronauts to moonwalk were scouts). A key goal of scouting is to develop confidence with being outdoors. The majority of the team of NASA astronauts in the early years were also from farming backgrounds. A farmer deals constantly with big weather pattern changes and incoming disasters. They have to be able to make a plan even when threatened with ruin.
The most famous Eagle Scout was the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. His ability to manage looming disaster came during his historic landing on the moon. As the spacecraft headed for the Tranquility Base landing site, Armstrong saw they were on crash course with a boulder that had not shown up on the surveillance photographs. The computer had 2K of computer power and was unable to manage the change. Armstrong had to recalculate (with a slide rule, sans calculator), flip off the computer and land the capsule himself. It was Neil Armstrong – calm and capable of dealing with difficulties – who saved the situation.
Even if your sons can not join the Scouts, we are fortunate in Canada to have such easy access to the great outdoors. There are fully guided canoe trips given through community centers for those parents not comfortable going to Algonquin Park on their own. Fishing trips with overnight stays are also a great family vacation sure to be remembered.
Many schools are making outdoor camps part of their curriculum. Some MBA schools run leadership programs using outdoor experiences to remedy the common complaint of the risk adverse attitude of graduates by beefing up “take action” skills.
Maybe it is not such a crazy idea to ask your potential new hire, “Have you ever been in a canoe?”