What my life’s most terrifying event taught me about leadership

We often grow from the situations that make us uncomfortable. There was one situation, in the New Hampshire wilderness that definitely taught me a valuable lesson in monitoring how you respond to stress when leading a group.

What’s the scariest thing that’s every happened to you?

… I know what it is for me – it was being lost in the New Hampshire wilderness. My time as a lifeguard and a camp counsellor taught me a whole lot more than I bargained for …

I loved camping trips – it was my absolute favourite time in summer – I’d do whatever I could to make sure I was on as many as I could.

One week in summer we took a trip out into the New Hampshire wilderness.

Late one afternoon before the sun set we decided to take a walk up into the hills to a nearby river – for the kids to go swimming. I watched the sky darken overhead as we walked up this rocky river for a few miles.

Disaster struck … one of the kids had been stung and showed signs that they might fall into anaphylaxis.

Quickly I had to leave the group behind and return to the camp site, taking 1 other staff member and about 5 kids with us …

We wandered down the river and over the rocks.

I walked ahead – ushering the kids to walk faster, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

We turned around the bend on the river and I was stood facing a terrifying sight – the river forked in two directions

I had no idea which way was home.

I had never been more frightened in my entire life.

My mind was in overdrive and my heart was pounding out of my chest. This was the unimaginable – this was the story that’s told on the news … I was left in charge of these children and here I was out in the wilderness wondering how to make a mud hut out of old tree’s and ferns …

We resigned ourselves to the side of the river, sitting it out and hoping and waiting for someone to return, find us and show us the way home.

Night fell and it was dark, and it was cold.

Off in the distance I could see a sparkle – the faint glimpse of light in the tree’s … I watched the light dance and flicker in the distance, cold and wet through as I entered a trance staring at this “firefly”.

One of the kids stood up and began to shout – snapping out of my trance I realised what I was seeing. It wasn’t a flicker of light – it was my boss; the man with the stature of a viking – trudging and wading through the tree’s.

Soon, we were back by the campfire – when my colleague turned to me and said:

“I couldn’t believe how you were not fazed that whole time?

Bemused; I looked back at her – “…but I was petrified!”.

What happened that day was that my fear and my thoughts I kept in control of – I left no room for the fear to rub off on my colleague or anyone else around me.

At this moment I realised just how powerful it is to keep ahold of your emotions.

Holding onto your emotions when you feel scared or worried and not passing them on is vital as you start to lead teams.

You need to hold it together when you feel like you might fall apart …

Question: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? How did you react?

Lou Bichard