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Wilderness Leadership

'Wilderness Leadership'
Wilderness Leadership—on the Job by John Kanengieter and Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin Tori Murden McClure was the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean and the first American to ski overland to the South Pole. She has led expeditions up Mount Rainier and the Andes, and through Kenya and Alaska. She has law and divinity degrees and now serves as the president of Spalding University, in Louisville, Kentucky. But before McClure could do all that, she had to learn how to lead. Her first attempt to cross the Atlantic was scuttled by planning hiccups, an inadequate communications system, and Hurricane Danielle. She was disappointed but recognized the silver lining: She’d had a great practice run, full of lessons—including important ones about delegating and thoughtful decision making—for her next attempt. The following year she tried again, and this time she relied more heavily on her support team for advice on boat materials and technology. When Hurricane Lenny hit near the end of her journey, causing her boat to repeatedly flip over, McClure stayed calm, set off her distress beacon only after the storm had passed, and then changed course. On December 3, 1999, she rowed ashore at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, making her mark on history. What can managers learn from McClure and adventurers like her? At the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), we take 15,000 executives, students, and armed services members into the wilderness each year to help them develop the same leadership skills that McClure has honed on her expeditions. And we believe that in the unpredictable, challenging, and dynamic wilderness environment, our participants learn five key principles—practice leadership, lead from everywhere, behave well, keep calm, and disconnect to connect—that apply directly to today’s business world. McClure, a 1985 NOLS graduate and now chairman of our board, views leadership as finding a path, for herself and others, all day every day. You have to think about the consequences of your actions, she believes, and remember that you don’t always lead from the front or follow from behind. You have to make sure that what you expect of other people is in harmony with how you behave. And when the boat flips and fills with water, you have to stay calm and remember which way is up. Not everyone will have the opportunity to personally experience NOLS training, of course, but all managers can benefit from the lessons of outdoor exploration. Here are the principles of our philosophy and how to apply them in your work life. Practice Leadership The fundamental philosophy of NOLS is that leadership can be learned—even by those who don’t think they have a natural ability to lead. The key is practice. Using an experiential learning model developed by David Kolb, a professor at the Weatherhead School of Management, NOLS gives expedition participants more responsibility each day so that they get comfortable making decisions, acting upon them, and reflecting on their o
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