Backcountry Leadership

I recently completed a 3-day solo backpacking adventure in one of my favorite Colorado wildernesses, which provided plenty of free head-space to reflect on a variety of subjects (especially with the fleeting nature of high-altitude bivvy-sack ‘sleep’…). I try to get in 3-4 solo trips each year and am always grateful for the opportunity to be completely self-sufficient in a modern world that makes it so easy not to be. It allows a unique laboratory for those, like me, who make a game out of maximizing efficiency, and leads me to learn valuable lessons which can be applied back in the ‘real world’: the importance and benefit of being familiar with one’s environment as well as mapping out a plan (then actually following a map!), how to calculate time and distance and analyze potential threats and opportunities based on observations, and how to adjust variables to improve accuracy the next time.

I also thoroughly enjoy guiding these types of adventures and try to get others out with me 2-3 times a year (especially nature rookies – any takers?). Being responsible for others’ lives, safety and enjoyment is a very different mindset from solo backpacking where, instead of focusing on optimizing personal comfort through maximum efficiency, I now pivot to making decisions based on what’s best for the team relative to our collective goals for the trip. To do so, I need to understand individual fears and limitations in advance as well as throughout our time together in the wilderness, which requires effective empathic questioning to get honest responses (where the tendency is to down-play certain realities) and may lead to various accommodations along the way to optimize individual guest comfort and the overall group experience. I’ve noticed that much of my ability to make successful adjustments as I guide in the group setting is derived from the learning I experience solo.

What I realized a day and a half into my latest adventure, was the correlation between solo vs. guided backpacking and successful team management in the workplace. As in the actual jungle, the better I understand the work environment, both market and office (and there’s always more to learn), the better equipped I am to ask the right questions to help my team determine the best course of action. As I continue to stay curious and seek to understand even the most tangential subjects, I have a deeper and broader base from which to guide the team toward new possibilities. We’ll start with a better foundation from which to plan, and I’ll be better equipped to uncover the hidden drivers and get to the ideal solution for making both strategic and tactical adjustments on the fly.

In my experience, the outdoors provides a connection with a more fundamental ‘human’ nature, whose insights are transferrable to any situation where leveraging your team’s individual capabilities is critical to determining the best course of action.

So, who wants to go camping?

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