10 Skills for Outdoor Leaders

By Seth Quigg M.A.
Wildland International:  Co-Owner and Program Director

At Wildland International, the subsidiary to Wildland Trekking that operates our Global Adventures Trips, we are passionate about the exploration of the wild, natural and culturally rich places our planet offers.  In order to effectively lead our guests to some of these grandest places, our guides need to be well versed in leadership theory and practical application. Many of the skills developed and applied in the outdoors can be transferred to life back home or in the work place.  Below are 10 skills which may aide a person in developing their leadership skills in the backcountry and the front-country.

1. Influence- Leadership is all about gaining the ability to influence others.  The greatest leaders in the history of the world have had one thing in common; the ability to influence.  How does one influence a person or group? Building rapport and getting to know the individuals involved is a good start. Words spread fast and energy is contagious.  Additionally, whoever you are leading in the outdoors needs to trust you and have confidence in your abilities.

2. Awareness- Overarching awareness is key when considering how one leads in the outdoors.  Awareness of a friend’s skill level, a client’s apprehensions, and most importantly self-awareness are extremely important.  What are your strengths as a leader?  What can you do differently to improve?  How do you come across to other people?

3. Communication- Verbal communication and non-verbal communication, such as body language and hand gestures, are a few ways that humans communicate. In the outdoors communication needs to be clear ensuring that all members of the trip are on the same page.  How do we get on the same page?  Experienced outdoorsy people will usually have formal or informal briefings and debriefings.  This provides the opportunity to discuss any personal or group goals, which may be present within the group.  This also helps with excitements or apprehensions about the proclaimed activity. The focus needs to be on the intention of the guide in correlation with the impact it has on the guest.  This is best demonstrated by saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.

4. Critical Thought- Why do we do things the way we do them? The ability to analyze our cognitive process is a skill valued in leadership, especially when making important decisions.  The management of actual risk is essential for outdoor leaders to understand and thinking critically can help when assessing risk and making decision’s.

5. Behavior- The majority of high-altitude mountain expeditions do not succeed on summit bids because of incompetency, but rather because of poor expedition behavior.  Always pull your weight, do camp chores when they need to be done and do them efficiently, and always put the group before yourself. Treat your partners with compassion as well as the people who live where you are recreating.

6. Goals- Only 5% of people in the United States write down their goals, and of that 5%, 95% of people accomplish their goals.  Be specific with your goals and come up with goals for the group.  The goals should be realistic and measurable.  Creating a Venn diagram is a good way to focus on the steps needed to be taken to accomplish your goals.  Write the goal in the middle and work your way out. It’s all about planned execution.

7. Tolerance- Understanding one’s personal tolerance level can prove to be beneficial when faced with adversity in the outdoors.  The natural world can be a challenging place and the people you may encounter may also pose challenges.  When it dumps three feet of snow in mid-summer and you’re in the mountains for another 10 days, are you going to complain? Being present and cognizant of your presence in adverse conditions, can build tolerance for adverse situations.  Additionally, learning to work with a variety of people and communicating openly, may build tolerance when dealing with challenging situations in the future.

8. Self-Care- In order to manage others in adverse conditions, you need to manage yourself efficiently and effectively.  Pack light, but do not compromise your health.  Plan accordingly and always think, what if?  If you are guiding, bring extra gear for your clients.  If you are instructing, it may be advantageous to role model for your students.  Drink copious amounts of water and eat gracious amounts of food. Put on layers when you’re cold and take off layers when you’re hot.  Get to know what your body feels like when it is pushed and treat yourself well.

9. Organization- As an outdoor leader, you need to know where all of your gear is located all of the time.  It takes time to create systems and dial those systems into your mind.  Know and understand where you need to keep accessible items, such as your rain gear, water, food, etc.  Make sure your pack is balanced and compressed.  Waterproof your items, which should not get wet and try to keep everything on the inside of your pack.

10. Competence- Whatever skill set you choose, try hard and do the best you can. All great leaders prove competent in their medium.  How do you do this?  Find a mentor, read about what you want to know, practice with friends or take a class.  Being competent in a skill may provide confidence for the people you are adventuring with or leading in the backcountry.  Additionally, having a strong understanding of risk management and hazard evaluation will strengthen your leadership skills and help you to reduce injury and illness on your trips.

Why is leadership important in the outdoors?  One of the main goals for any outdoor enthusiast is to return home healthy from their activity or expedition.  In order to accomplish this, risk management and good decision making need to be at the forefront of one’s mind. In order to become a great leader and decision maker, you need to gain experience through determination and practice.  All of the skills above can be transferred into your life at work and at home.  If you implement these skills into your life at home, they can help you accomplish your dreams.

wildlandtrekking

Submit a comment