Behind The Name — Like Leadership, It’s a Working Title
My clients often ask how and why I came to call my business Working River. My ex-husband, a mAd-man and creative, insists he came up with these alliterating words. But I, too, was in the room and remember it quite differently. The mystery and debate around that, I’m sure, will live on into perpetuity. But the resonance of the words, as it goes to the values and mission driving my work, is a more important story to tell — and it is this:
I had finally arrived. My career as an HRian and senior talent consultant in a massive organization had brought me to this: a neo-industrial and slick Sex in the City downtown apartment of glass and brick. It had this wonderful little balcony that overlooked the dull red Center Street swing bridge, hovering over the Cuyahoga River that seemed to meander, almost begrudgingly, through the Flats of Cleveland Ohio.
On a clear day, you could see the stretch of city-scape from Lake Erie to the baseball stadium. But on this particular Sunday afternoon, all I could see was the troubled face of my new client, an employee in my organization, and the challenge of our upcoming coaching session, for which I was so ill-prepared.
Like me, he had arrived as well. His had been a celebrated promotion, and rightly so, as it came with the usual money and power and perks. However, my client, still drunk on the shiny new title and the good stuff that came with it, was suddenly coming face-to-face with the not-so-sexy side of leading. Much sooner than he would have liked, my client would learn that he was now dealing with the industrious part of leading — the working part. The part that wasn’t about him, because now it was about his employees. The part that wasn’t about the promotion; now it was about moving the will of his people. The fun and the festive congratulations had passed. Now it was time to produce. But he was floundering, and his manager didn’t know how to help him. That’s where I came in — the internal leadership coach, and not really sure if I knew how to help him either. Little did I know that the river was about to teach me.
The section of Crooked River under my balcony was drab and gray and brown, and I often sat out there to watch while the little red bridge swung open to let the big rusty barges and tenacious little tugboats follow the way of that insistent water, as it pushed them toward Lake Erie. It wasn’t slick or sexy — absent the pretty appeal of jeweled blue water. This waterway was an industrious river — a working river.
I looked at it and thought about leadership. Our age-old attraction to leadership isn’t hard to understand. Leadership is potent. It’s uncomplicated and without the need of glamour. It’s quiet but powerfully causing change amid the crooked twist and turns and unpredictabilities of business and organizational life.
Leadership hardly needs another metaphor, but when I looked at that undulating water and the boats that followed the way of its movement, I wondered: Business and leaders: which one was driving which? One is the water, and one is the vessel through which the water manifests its true nature, direction, and intent. But again, which one was which?
Like the chicken and egg, I don’t know — but I know this: business always follows the way of its leaders’ growth, and leadership successes or failures in part reflect the nature of the organizations in which they rise. My client was a good employee, and we worked for a good company. Our organization gave my client the resources he needed. And ultimately, I helped his manager, his people, and our organization get the best my client had to offer. Business and leader had moved and worked as one. And I was privileged to have supported and witnessed the dance.
That’s when I conceived the idea of Working River Leadership Consulting. It would be a vehicle through which I would help people walk in their unique brand of leadership in ways that were evident and added value to their organizations and themselves. It would empower career journeys by delivering realistic and pragmatic solutions to people who wanted to become leaders or better ones. It would support leaders as they grappled with the industrious parts of the job — the working parts of influencing others and causing change that matters in the organization. I knew the vessel and water moved together–so does leader and organization. Developing leadership develops business; and helping people become within organizations that value leaders as their lifeblood was my life’s work.