Good expedition behavior – respectfulness, flexibility, tolerance of others, courtesy, direct communication, self-awareness, and teamwork – becomes critical when traveling in small groups in remote areas. These skills are also the hallmark of high-performing teams in the workplace.
To develop these and other skills needed to lead groups both in the wilderness and at work, seven educators, a professional climbing guide, and a U.S. Marine Corps captain joined a program this past August of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) held in the rugged terrain surrounding Washington’s Mt. Rainier.
Nadine Andrié, NOLS instructor explained that good expedition behavior “can be the difference between an average course experience and a great one.” The expedition experience is centrally concerned with “learning each other’s strengths and growth areas, teaching, coaching and supporting each other” in physically challenging settings. And that, she said is “one of the most transferable skills from the backcountry to the workplace.”
Marine Captain Tom Przybelski came to the course to compare military and civilian styles of leadership and team building in a harsh environment and then to learn what he could take back into the Marines. “An outdoor program is at its best,” he added, “when it is able to teach life-skills in addition to the nuts and bolts of living in the backcountry,” and he was particularly impressed with how fast and fully the group transformed itself from nine unrelated individuals into a close-knit team that was ready to surmount whatever challenges the wilderness presented.
The lessons of wilderness expeditions are becoming of value to other organizations, too. As NASA astronauts move from short trips in space shuttles to many months on the International Space Station, expedition capacities are becoming increasingly important, and astronauts are now being readied for space with trips to the backcountry. Today, nearly a third of all U.S. astronauts have been on a leadership expedition co-organized by NOLS and NASA.
While most of us are likely to remain earth-bound for the foreseeable future, it’s clear that good expedition behavior learned in the backcountry can be highly useful for surviving in our own “frontcountry."
First published in Wharton Leadership Digest