Way down in the Grand Canyon, Peter Guber was hosting a five-day river rafting trip for ten friends on the ever-thrilling Colorado River, a.k.a The Big Wild Red.
The guys had become a rambunctious on his watch, Peter tells us in his terrific book Tell to Win.
Pierce Brosnan (otherwise known as Bond…, James Bond), life strategist and author Tony Robbins, the NFL Network President and several high profile movie studio CEOs were all part of the group.
They had spent the first two days leaping from boat to boat, throwing water bottles at each other, and generally ignoring the river guides.
They were having the time of their lives.
But Peter had run the Red before: “I knew what was coming, and the prospect of losing some of these lives was starting to feel like a clear and present danger.”
Richard Bangs had also been watching the rowdier members of the group. Richard was a real-life adventurer, the founder of Sobek Expeditions, one of the world’s premier adventure travel companies. He’d personally led the very first descents of thirty-five rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa.
“We’ve got to get these guys to wise up,” he told Peter. “And soon.”
As they were finishing the third day, someone remarked, “Listen… I didn’t know trains ran through here.”
That was the opening Richard had been waiting for.
“Let me show you this train,” Richard told the group. He led them up the side of the canyon to a ledge overlooking the infamous Lava Falls, a Class-10 rapid and the source of the thunderous roar.
The group fell silent.
“There’s no way out but through,” Richard told them. “Risk can be transformative, but only if you survive it. The reason I named my adventure company after Sobek, the ancient deity that protects boats crossing the Nile, was this story. Listen!
“Three thousand years ago, the first king of Egypt – a notorious a****** – was screwing around during a hunting party and so pissed off his dogs that they turned on him. The pack chased him all the way to the Nile, which was infested with crocodiles. One of these huge reptiles lay sunning itself on the bank. It offered to ferry the king across the river, and the king was so desperate, he agreed.
“To his surprise the croc actually did take him across, but then his savior revealed that he was Sobek, the crocodile spirit. In return for the king’s life, Sobek demanded some serious change. The king had to wise up and lead his people to treat the river and all its creatures with due respect. As long as the humans paid homage, their boats would be granted safe passage.”
At this point, Richard looked down at Lava Falls. “Only once, about two thousand years later, did a military flotilla forget to appease Sobek. During that crossing the river claimed a thousand lives.”
“So now there are crocs in the Colorado?” Pierce asked, attempting levity.
“No. But these falls will tear you to pieces like the crocodiles if you don’t respect them.”
Peter writes: “Encoded in these words was the message that nature can be ferocious. To survive and advance, you need to honor the environment.”
A hush fell over the group. That night, for the first time, the group worked together to plan the following day’s journey down the river. They got to sleep early and the next morning everyone was quiet and focused.
As promised, the river shot them out like a slingshot. They paddled furiously and together they successfully navigated through the razor-sharp rocks.
Peter writes: “The exhilaration was so intense that afterward, we all felt transformed.”
Richard’s story about Sobek provided emotional transportation which ultimately led to transformation.
Stories are like a Trojan Horse. As business leaders, when we tell a purposeful story, our audience does not realize up front they are receiving a powerful, hidden message. Only after the story has been told do they realize they’ve heard and felt the storyteller’s call to action.
Reflection: How would the group have reacted if Richard lectured them rather than told a story?
Action: Identify a story that will motivate my team to take action to solve a current business challenge.