Decision Making for Canoe and Kayak Leaders
Have you ever wondered how really good leaders make the right decisions? How do they know when to stop the group and put them in a safe place while they paddle something or scout ahead? How do they know when to stop the group and change strategy?
One thing they do is unconsciously monitor where they are placing their focus of attention.
Evidence suggests we can only focus our attention on one thing at a time. However, we can switch focus from one thing to another quickly, with practice. What we need to decide is how much of our time we should spend attending to any particular thing.
There are so many things we could attend to, and they can be put into three general categories-
- The Environment (including the weather, the water and hazards)
- The Group (including their performance, welfare and morale)
- Ourself (our emotional state, the skills we’re performing, and our physical feelings eg temperature)
Good leaders are paying attention to these three areas in different proportions, and these proportions will vary depending on the situation.
If a leader is well within their own comfort zone, their focus of attention may look something like this-
Focus of Attention
Now, imagine that the group arrive at a challenging piece of water. The Leader decides that he needs to pay more attention to the environment – perhaps 70% of his attention. But that means the very most he can attend to the group is 30%, perhaps not enough. So the leader stops the group, puts them in a safe place, and no longer has to worry about them while he pays attention to the environment and his own safety.
Now, perhaps the leader decides that the challenges ahead are within the capabilities of the group, but when actually paddling the leader will have to concentrate of his own performance and increase the focus of attention on himself to 50%. And he’ll need to adapt his performance within the environment, so the environment requires 40% attention. Again, that means that he cannot focus on keeping the group safe, so he decides to run the water one at a time with those not running it safely out of harms way.
So next time you’re out with your groups, have a think about how much attention you are paying to these different areas at different times and in different places. Calibrating this can be a useful way to know when it’s time to change strategy.