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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Using a Human-Centered Design Approach to Better Meet Your Target Populations

In recent years, many nonprofits have started to become more introspective about whether or not they are truly meeting the needs of the populations they are trying to serve. Many have become interested in involving clients and consumers in the process of designing solutions, and shifting to a mindset that is more empowering and consumer-driven. While this general shift represents a positive development in the field, many find themselves stuck on how exactly to go about this process. A human-centered design approach offers a great paradigm for organizations that are seeking to become more inclusive.

Human-centered design (HCD), also known as design thinking, is an innovative approach that puts consumers in the driver’s seat. Using this perspective can help your organization to design programs, projects, and products that better meet the needs of the populations that you serve, building empowerment in the process. It has been used successfully by for-profits and nonprofits alike, and is particularly favored by organizations that seek to address social and public health-related problems. A human-centered design lens is a great option for organizations seeking to reach their target populations in a more effective and inclusive way.

The HCD process involves several distinct stages, which are repeated after receiving feedback from consumers. The beginning of the human-centered design process involves observation, inspiration, and empathy. This is where designers must do whatever they can to put themselves into the hearts and minds of the people for whom they are designing. This is a phase where openness is valued, and receiving is better than giving. Tools and approaches in this stage include individual and group interviews, expert research, and basic observation of conditions, habits, and environments. It is important to identify pain points, and to continue to ask, “why is this important?”

Following this initial phase, designers begin to narrow in on a definition of the problem at hand, making sure that any potential solutions are designed with ultimate impact in mind. Designers zero in on the identified problem using observations and input gathered in the first steps of the process. It is crucial that all team members share an understanding of goals and purpose, and are designing around this shared understanding. This stage involves discussion, more listening, and creative thinking. The challenge and goal within this phase is to frame the issue at hand as a design question.

Once designers have jointly and specifically identified the problem that they are trying to solve, exploration and brainstorming begin. Within this phase solutions are explored, tested, and iterated. Human-centered design does not demand immediate perfection, and so leaves room for the development of a “more perfect” design over the course of the process. After receiving feedback on initial ideas on potential solutions, designers go back to the drawing board again and again. This approach allows designers to use feedback from potential users to inform more and more improved versions of a product or program over time.

Human-centered design is inherently empowering. It taps into and assumes the presence of an innate human creativity that has the potential to solve whatever problems present themselves to us. It also assumes that individuals are the best source of information for what is important to them, what they need, and where they want to go. This stands in contrast to the philosophy of aid programs of the past that assumed the stance that if poor and underserved populations would just “do this” or “do that,” then they would be able to advance. Programs with this attitude so often fell short because they failed to empower the people that they were meant to serve, and so ended up badly missing the mark.

Using this approach can present some internal obstacles for those accustomed to a different way of doing things. Firstly, it’s important to name that it can be a bit of a shock to the ego to consider the idea that we may not actually know the best answer after all. We so often have a wealth of ideas up our sleeves that we’re eager to implement, with the best of intentions in mind. It can be tough to put on the brakes and be told to just listen for a while. Beyond that, empathy is fundamental to the process, and this can be a difficult skill to develop. It can also be tough to get comfortable with the idea of iteration. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have the right answer right away, often to the detriment of the creative process.

Human-centered design operates from principles of empowerment, collaboration, flexibility, and openness, and it can be seamlessly integrated into your organization’s process using a few simple tools and methods. However, the most important component of this process is a shift in thinking from top-down to bottom-up. How willing are you and your organization to make that shift? Taking this question into consideration can lead to some big and important changes to the work that you do, resulting is greater impact and connection to community.

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What’s a Facebook Block List? You May Want One.

If you run ads through Facebook Ads Manager, you may not realize that opting into the Audience Network means that your ads could be running on sites that aren’t in line with your brand’s values—eg. Breitbart.

The simplest fix is to opt out of third-party sites by selecting “Edit Placements” in the ad set and then deselecting “Audience Network.” However, if you don’t want to miss out on the Audience Network’s access to sites like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and CNN, you can upload a “Block List” that will prevent ads from running on specific sites.

If you prefer the latter option, the actual Audience Network list is quite lengthy, so we recommend finding out where your ads HAVE run. To see that info, in your business settings, navigate to ➞ Brand Safety ➞ Block Lists ➞ ManageSee Where Ads Have Appeared.

Once you download those lists, we suggest focusing on the channels with the most impressions and adding the no-gos to your Block List.


Ready to start engaging influencers? Here’s the plan.

1. Redefine “Influencers”
Instead of thinking about people as “influencers,” we suggest viewing them as potential “friends” of your brand. You want to build long-term relationships, not a list of one-and-dones.

2. Find Friends with Influence
Next, scout for your new friends. Look for a variety of people who have different spheres of influence. Some of them may have already tagged your brand in social media or reached out via email. Visit those archives!

3. Rank Character 
Look for people who share values with your brand, then assess and rank their worth. We like letter grades: A+, A, B, C. What to consider: engagement, followers, frequency, experience.

4. Make Contact 
Contact your potential new friends with an offer, which can be tailored to each group: C = free product/service; B = C + repost; A = B + C + payment; A+ = A + B + C + an experience (pictured).

5. Build a CRM
Once you have your first group of influencers on board, confirm your agreements (contracts are always wise) and then load everyone’s info—social handles, agreement terms, signed docs, etc.—into a CRM tool like Capsule.

6. Review. Revise. Repeat.
After your influencers post their media, capture the results and review the experience of working with each one. Use your CRM to log the info…and then plan your next wave with even more friends!

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Work-Life Integration v. Work-Life Balance: Are We Missing the Point?

There has been a lot written in recent years about Work-Life Balance v. Work-Life Integration. The words “balance” and “integration” have been dissected to the point that they simultaneously feel like synonyms and antonyms. What is it, though, that we are really trying to get at?

The concept of Work-Life Balance entered into my psyche for the first time around 2004. I was early in my law school career, and all around me my peers were asking the law firms they were interviewing with whether or not they supported “work-life balance”, and if so, how? Simultaneously, I was working as a law clerk at the firm that I was a paralegal with prior to starting law school, and ultimately would stay with for a number of years after graduation. While law students were asking about work-life balance, the attorneys at firms were scratching their heads, wondering what in the world were these law students talking about? There is no balance at the beginning of your legal career – there is only work-work balance, and “life” gets the scraps that are left over when you are exhausted and have nothing to give. That’s how they did it, and if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for the next generation.

Fast forward to my years working within the technology start-up sector. Not only was Work-Life Balance a term relegated to the past, but we had to come up with a new phrase to signify how it is that we approach managing work and personal life. Enter….”Work-Life Integration”. With the technological advances of email, smart phones, mobile applications, etc…we as humans are more accessible than ever, and so is every part of our life. We live and die by our calendars, creating separate ones for personal/social, work and even our custody schedules. We share them with others so they know where to find us, and when. We have our work email on our personal devices and our personal email on our work devices so we are at the ready for anything, at any time. Hence – we have integrated. There are no boundaries between work and personal. We can work at soccer practice, and we can watch a live-streamed school play from the comfort of our offices when in the midst of a high pressure transaction.

But…is this the zenith? At this point in my life and my career, I find myself full of questions with very few answers. Each question begets more questions. My children want to show me what is important to them, without the ping from my phone interrupting the attention they are receiving. When I am working on a deliverable for a client, they want to know that what they are paying me for has my full attention.

How can I have it ALL? CAN I have it all? What does it even MEAN to have it all?? Is this where we want to be? Or, have we lost touch with what it means to be a fully and wholly integrated person walking through the many avenues of life? There are so many facets to who we are as individuals. Yes, of course, we have our professional aspirations. We have our personal lives that could include partners, children, hobbies, friendships, exercise, spiritual practices, etc. But, is it necessary that they continue to be defined separately? If we are one person, is it possible that we could bring the aspects that make us most productive in the work setting into our homes? And the aspects that make us the most fulfilled in our homes into our work settings? What if we offered our co-workers, our friends and our families the best of all aspects of ourselves.

In addition to this, what would it mean to truly be present for each moment in our lives? To not bifurcate and watch our niece’s play in a live stream, but to actually be present for it and not touch our cell phone come hell or high water until it is over? Or to be present for the deal in the office that needs our full attention and go ahead and outsource soccer practice that night to someone who can be present for that?

We have come a long way in this conversation. But, perhaps we still continue to miss the point. Work v. Life. Balance v. Integration. Whole v. Separate. Where are you?

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Leveraging Emotional Intelligence when Handling Conflict

Recently, I was asked to prepare and deliver a training on conflict management for an organization. As I started to consider different options for presenting meaningful information, I consistently returned to the basic tenets of emotional intelligence. The term “emotional intelligence” has become a buzzword in today’s organizations, but few of us really understand the true meaning.

Emotional intelligence skills can be divided into four categories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Within each category is a set of skills that, when coupled with conflict resolution tools and techniques, will yield positive results.

Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods emotions, and drives as well as their effect on others. Those that are self-aware, recognize their automatic reactions or emotional triggers and have learned to neutralize them. They proceed with caution while keeping themselves in check.

Those that have low self-awareness tend to become externally focused on the person or situation that has “caused” the problem they face, and allow their reactions to “hijack” their behavior. This altered state of mind is often referred to as a neural hijack and can lead to unhealthy, emotionally reactive behavior.

Self-Management: Self-management is the ability to think before acting. Instead of letting reactions dictate behavior, they can explore possible strategies prior to taking action. Their energy is focused on slowing down and making conscious choices about what to do. Self-management is the skill set that enables you to exert conscious control over your behavior.

Social Awareness: Social-awareness is being proficient in managing relationships. Those that are not socially aware, tend to make false assumptions in the heat of the moment. In general, when emotions are triggered they assume the worst, and their assumptions fuel the fire of their reactive behavior.
On the other hand, those who are socially aware, attend to others and can establish empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and have skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions. They look for positive intentions behind negative behavior. Instead of reacting negatively to “bad” behavior, they seek to respond to the other person’s positive intentions and to lead them toward behaviors that better express those intentions.

Relationship Management: Those who are not adept at managing relationships, often lose their perspective of time when they are emotionally charged. Despite whatever ongoing relationship they may have with someone, when negative emotional reactions are triggered they are likely to react with destructive behavior undermining their future relationship with that person. Those that are skilled at managing relationships, remain cognizant of the fact that how they interact in the present determines the quality of their relationships in the future. Keeping this broader perspective during conflict helps them to focus on self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, resisting the impulse to react negatively.

Emotional intelligence is essential for managing any conflict we face in our everyday lives. As we all know, conflict appears in every relationship we have – work, home, friendships, etc. Being able to effectively manage conflict is about leveraging emotional intelligence skills to consider outcomes from the perspective of our relationships. Too often, we find ourselves arguing about petty issues; and if we aren’t careful, these interactions can trigger waves of defensiveness and hostility. However, they are skills that have to be learned, practiced and internalized if they are to be successful.

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