There is a sublime moment in crew-racing rowing just before the oar blades enter the water. As each rower comes forward, the last 6 inches of travel determine whether the stroke will be worthy or oarsome!
To be oarsome requires a degree of vulnerability, complete trust and a willingness to surrender to the spirit of the boat.
At the front end of the stroke each rower is poised and at their most vulnerable. As they hover just above the water, they are asked to commit to being powerful and to trust that the boat will remain stable. Done well, and when the work comes on, it feels as though the boat is moving effortlessly. Done poorly, and rowing becomes a discord of individual talent.
To the outside world, rowing is a hard-physical sport for Olympians. For those who have rowed there is an extra dimension; the pleasure of realising that the ‘Whole’ is so much more than the sum of the ‘Parts’. Rowing is probably the ultimate team sport!
When a crew knows and trusts each other, it has a resilience that can cope with internal mistakes and external pressures.
Someone who gets their timing slightly wrong will wobble but not rock the boat. Equally the crew will cope with wind and waves on their way down the course.
When that trust is not present, the experience is deeply unpleasant. If a rower loses confidence that the boat will remain stable, they lose their poise at the front end of the stroke. They whack the blade in early so that they are OK, and inevitably someone else is not. A rowing boat can rock a surprising amount without tipping over and It is very difficult to row when this happens. The experience becomes one of survival rather the rhythm and flow. Brute force takes over and the crew stops working together.
All the undercurrents swirling around workplace teams are present in a rowing boat. The difference is that the effects are much more apparent on the water.
In a rowing eight there is nowhere to hide. If someone chooses to do their own thing it shows. It is only when the whole crew commits to each other—creating a palpable ‘We Space’, that it thrives.
The reward is the opportunity of being part of something that is bigger than you are. The feeling really is sublime, and it is why, 40 years on, I still climb into a rowing boat in Cambridge, UK, every weekend.
Charlie Efford has a diverse background that includes periods as an Army Engineer, Management Consultant and Therapist. The recurring themes in his life are Leadership, Balance, and Holding Space for others. He is steadily drawing these threads together to offer space for leaders of all shapes and sizes to explore what becoming more conscious means. [email protected]leaders.co.uk