Leadership and the Wet Exit

by Nicki Weiss | August 28, 2015

Have you ever been simultaneously paralyzed about doing something while knowing you were being ridiculous? And that you couldn’t get out of the paralyzing situation so that not doing it was not an option?


That was my reaction about doing a wet exit before my most recent kayaking trip.


A wet exit is the process of getting out of a kayak upside down with a spray skirt on. Just thinking about it still gives me the whim-whams. It is a basic skill that paddlers must know how to perform and I had managed to take long kayaking trips for 25 years without ever having to show I could do it. Until the guides on a trip to The North Channel in northern Ontario wouldn’t let me weasel out of demonstrating the wet exit no matter how much I whined.



What does this have to do with leadership?

A big part of a leader’s job is to make people feel comfortable and safe while moving them outside their comfort zones. Here’s how two leaders made all the difference for me:


Kielyn greeted me warmly when I arrived at base camp. She listened to my fearful complaints about the wet exit with a smile and reassurance. At no time did she say that I could take a pass.


On land and in the water, she showed a group of us repeatedly how to do a wet exit. She encouraged all of us to sit on the dock to watch and cheer each other on as we did ours. Observing the others helped me see that everyone surfaced safely in less than 10 seconds.


Ally, our other leader, stood in the water to coach. Ally has a very calm manner, a great sense of humour, and the patience of Job. As I sat in my kayak, I followed her instructions to verbally repeat the wet exit process until I felt comfortable and safe. She explained what she would do to make sure I didn’t drown if I got stuck upside down.


wet exit 2


Giving people opportunities to observe, learn, talk through a process, ask questions, and practice – over and over – allows them to feel comfortable enough to take chances. Ally waited patiently as I sat there, paralyzed, for 15 long minutes. Her kindness and compassion allowed me to start believing I would live when I voluntarily tipped the kayak.


When I surfaced, Ally hugged me and said: “The biggest joy of my job is helping people get past their fears.”


wet exit


And then we had the best kayaking trip of my life.


For more on kayaking with Wild Women Expeditions, click here.

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