To be an effective leader in any setting — whether in the office or an Alaskan mountaintop — you need to build relationships. This means being able to connect with others, understand their needs and motivations, and create a sense of trust with them. When everyone on your team feels like they can rely on you and each other, that’s when the real magic happens.
Outdoor leadership requires all of these skills and more. If you’re looking to develop your leadership skills, there’s no better place to start than by heading into the great outdoors, where you can develop these six skills:
Leading a team of people with different personalities and skill sets can be challenging. On some trips, you might be off the grid for several days at a time, so it’s essential to be able to communicate clearly and make decisions on the fly.
One of the most critical leadership skills is the ability to communicate effectively. You must be able to share your vision for the trip, give clear instructions, and provide feedback in a way that everyone can understand. This requires active listening and adapting your communication style to different situations.
As the leader of a trip teaching beginner whitewater rafting in Yellowstone or hiking in the Rocky Mountains, I had to rely on patience and compassion to help my team through any challenges that could arise.
Whether figuring out how to carry gear over portages, navigating tricky rapids, determining which trail to follow, or working through differences in opinion, it’s your job to keep everyone feeling valued and focused on the ultimate goal: having an amazing adventure together as a team.
Another essential leadership skill is the ability to stay organized and create a plan everyone can follow. This necessitates strong analytical skills and the ability to think ahead. You need to be able to identify the steps that must be taken to reach the goal, and you need to be able to communicate this plan clearly to your team.
A camping trip is an amazing opportunity to develop problem-solving and conflict management skills in a low-pressure environment. You will have to take charge of all the logistics, from planning and packing to cooking and setting up camp. This requires delegation skills, as well as the ability to think on your feet and deal with unexpected challenges.
Or, imagine you’re on a canoe trip and dealing with portages — areas where you have to carry your canoe over land. This can be difficult, especially if you have a group of people with different levels of strength and experience, but it’s vital if something goes wrong or someone gets hurt or lost along the way.
5. Resource management and risk assessment.
Outdoor activities can help cultivate even more advanced skills, such as resource management, risk assessment, and leadership under pressure. For example, if you are climbing up a steep slope or crossing an icy crevasse, one wrong move can have disastrous consequences.
It takes nerves of steel and total focus to lead a team under these conditions. But with the right training, preparation, and support from your team members, you can overcome any challenge that comes your way.
When embarking on an outdoor expedition, you have to ensure you have all the necessary equipment, that everyone is adequately trained to use it, and that everyone clearly understands their role in the group. This can be difficult when hiking with people with different fitness levels and abilities. By encouraging teamwork and collaboration, you can help everyone feel confident in their ability to reach the summit.
Ultimately, leadership is about people. It’s about understanding what makes them tick, what motivates them, and what challenges they face. It’s about seeing the potential in others and helping them grow into their best selves. And it’s about creating an environment in which everyone can thrive. Outdoor leadership is a unique opportunity to develop these skills and put them into practice in numerous real-world settings. There’s no better way to begin than to get out there and start exploring.