Flawed… or Fantastic- some leadership thoughts!

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On many management or leadership courses I run with all sorts of client groups our discussions usually end up revolving around the subject of what makes a great leader?

Inevitably we discuss the character traits of famous or infamous leaders and try to identify what made them great, this way we compare or try to learn from them.

This is a great way of recognizing successful, and not so successful characteristics that we can either take on and use for ourselves, or to avoid at all costs!

Subjects in this ID parade of past leaders usually seem include Jesus, Emily Pankhurst, Mandela, Churchill, Margret Thatcher, Hitler, Sir Francis Drake, and Richard Branson to name but a few. So why is it that we turn to these leaders to seek advice and guidance on how WE can become better leaders ourselves?

I admit that there are common traits or situations both individually or collectively that these people possess, or have been through that we can use to help us learn to do things differently or better.

But do we believe that leaders are great because of birth, psychological predetermination, or accident of their position or situation?

Or…

Is  there a great leader inside all of us just waiting to get out?

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All of the leaders we usually discuss in these workshops have done amazing things and most will go down in history for their achievements and success, but in the end they were only human…. Just like you and me!

And just like you and me they had their flaws.

I think that alongside looking at the positive or perceived positives about their characters or their actions, we should also look at these flaws in the same way, finding out what they may have struggled with in their personalities , actions or performances to give us a clearer picture of what leaders do.

Lets take Sir Frances Drake for instance, he was a man with a vision, he wanted to protect his country, push his boundaries and explore the world.

He carried out extreme acts of piracy, killing hundreds of innocent people, many who had placed their trust in him, and along the way profiting hugely from his state sponsored acts, that we would now probably call terrorism.

But he was undoubtedly a great leader, men followed him time and again off to blank areas on the world map, he led them on huge exploits, through great battles and on one of the earliest circumnavigations of the world.

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It is said that he could inspire men in their worst moments and bring them through some of the hardest parts of their expeditions.

Imagine being in a storm, miles from land, in huge rolling seas, floating in a small 16th century wooden boat being tossed in massive waves… Scary?

Well it was in times like this that Drake was known to be on deck, with his men, stripped to the waist, hauling ropes and shouting encouragement and defying them to work as hard as him. On other times he would lead religious services on board, promoting his protestant beliefs alongside defining the purpose of their task, therefore building morale, and helping to define his leadership and vision.

What a mix?

He was obviously a deeply flawed, selfish man, motivated by greed and his need for power, but at the same time endowed with courage, vision, ability to inspire, to relate to his followers and to come to the front in times of real need and lead from the front!

We are all like this, we all have flaws and attributes that like Drake can be used to define how we operate as leaders in many situations.

If we could identify and recognize our flaws as much as our more positive abilities and if we can understand these we could learn to work more holistically as leaders, and improve the way that we understand our teams.

Sometimes we are scared to identify our flaws, thinking that these are areas of weakness, but by doing so we create a full understanding of ourselves but also how we operate in team working situations. By understanding the flaws of our co-workers or staff we have  a greater chance of achieving the aims of the team or task, because we will know how to work with people, as well as our own methods and therefore delegate or take on tasks that are most appropriate to abilities.

A good leader who understands themselves and their teams fully becomes a great leader who knows when to push, when to inspire, when to step back or when, like Drake to get their shirt off and get stuck in!!

Inclusion in Adventure

I read a lot about inclusion in the outdoors these days, and sometimes I find that it is not presented in the most positive or even inclusive way.
I just wanted to champion some people and projects that are doing amazing work (https://womensadventureexpo.co.uk/ https://www.loveherwild.com/ http://www.equaladventure.org/ http://outdoorafro.com/) to name a few, and to add my 5 pence worth to this wide debate.

 

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The adventure challenge today is not so much about climbing the highest mountain or the physical exploits of personal endeavor and hardship by super fit individuals but much more it is starting to challenge the status quo of “who” is being included in this!
The need for “adventure” and exploration to become more inclusive is paramount.
As a broad  society , made up of all types of people and cultures the challenge to adventurers, organisations and those that follow is to become more diverse in outlook, thinking and practically.
The challenges may be culturally, accessibility, social or even prejudice, but the sector and those of us in it must try to understand the “why” and well as the “who” and work really hard and a broadly as possible to understand the “how”, to ensure that the outdoor sector, how ever broad it is, is as inclusive as possible.
We need to explore and break down how other cultures see the outdoors, as well as looking critically at all our relationships with it, this needs to be historically, culturally and practically, we need to understand how all cultures and groups of people see the outdoors.
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In modern Britain we see the outdoors as a good place to go, a place to explore and be adventurous, to challenge ourselves physically and that it is acceptable to go into the outdoors and gain some positive benefits from it, educationally or personally.  But this wasn’t always the case. In Victorian times the mountains were seen as evil places, where dragons and demons live. One of my favorite mountains is the Cader Idris in North Wales, even here mythology from the 1700’s said that its is where the devil played cards with sabbath breakers on Sundays! This was how the Victorians saw the world, and it wasn’t till later when a few drug- addled poets and early botanists started to describe the mountains differently, and change people perceptions of them did they become more acceptable places.
But how do other cultures explain their relationship with the wider environment, and if they are then part of a migrant diaspora, how do they relate that to their new environments?
We need to understand what the barriers are or have been to people to access or go into the outdoors, disabled people have potentially avoided places due to rough surfaces or an in- ability to engage with the environment from a mobility perspective, people on low incomes cannot get to remote or outdoor places, some people view of the outdoors is that it is “NOT” for certain types of people (LGBTQ/ Transgender). But what other barriers exist for people that stops them engaging, is it attitudes, cost of clothing and equipment or not seeing enough people “like them” in the outdoor literature or on the media?
Even I’m not that sure I relate to Ben Fogle, Ran Fiennes or Ray Mears, and I am a white (nearly) middle aged male!!!!
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 We need real change drivers, adventurers, leaders in the industry, communities and through our media to change and develop our thinking of inclusion in the outdoors.
The western, white, middle class male-centric approach, with all its history, culture, outlooks and educational approaches must be challenged to find out ways to make the outdoor and adventure relevant, welcoming and open to change so that all can be represented at its broad church!

Through a Child’s eyes… Summer 2018

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The taxi pulled up at 2am and a bleary eye bunch of expeditioners piled in.

The journey to Gatwick was quiet, a strange silence almost tinged with trepidation, we had already lost 1 of our number to a family emergency, so the remaining 4 set out to complete the planned expedition.

We were heading to Northern Sweden to canoe a section of the River Harkan, we didn’t know what to expect, the pre expedition nerves seemed to punctuate the silence of that short taxi ride.

For me the trepidation was exaggerated as one of the party was my 15 year old son, Robert, heading of with us on his first overseas expedition.

What was he feeling, what thoughts and excitement was running through his mind as he awaited this experience, were his nerves anything like mine?

I have never been one to force my life and career choices onto my children, the option has always been there and at this point this growing young adult wanted to be part of this expedition. He is an experienced canoeist with an easy but level headed persona, someone who is calm and inquisitive, yet knowledgeable  for his age. A product of  his time, but starting to take those bigger steps as he develops into an adult, pushing his physical and mental boundaries.

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I work a lot with young people and I love being part of educational and developmental expeditions, but this was going to be a little different, Robert is part of this team, he has worked his apprenticeship, learnt how to navigate, and canoe, completed his Duke of Edinburgh Award, roughed it in tents and developed his Camp craft, he will have to fit in and earn his place on this team. Already, as we make out way North through Sweden he has shown how he can make decisions, share the load and join the conversations of those older and more experienced than him.

This summer I have had the opportunity to take all my children off on overseas trips, my youngest had spent two weeks travelling with my wife and I through France, learning about the Normandy landings, even camping on the cliffs above Omaha Beach, then on to the Bayeux Tapestry, before heading South to enjoy the sun and rest on the beaches and by the pools of an amazing little island called Ill de Re, just off the coast of La Rochelle. We finished our French sojourn in Paris, introducing them to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph!

Watching my children exploring the world has really opened my eyes this year, I have seen them attempt to speak in another language, look in awe at an osprey catching a fish, enjoy French crepes, Swedish meatballs and the infamous Orangina! They grew in confidence, made new friends, visited unique places and challenged themselves outside their comfort zones!!

After all these years travelling and exploring, introducing hundreds of others to the world, truly believing that outdoor learning, expeditions and travel can make life changing impressions on people, I have finally started my own children’s journey.

 

Education or Travel?

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Counting down the last few days before the next expedition!

The living room is filling with stuff sacs and kit again.

And the list of jobs in my diary are gradually getting ticked off!

Its that time again to be heading off on the next expedition.

This time I head to the mountain kingdom of Nepal, the home of the highest mountains on Earth, and some of it friendliest people.

Nearly 20 years ago I led my first overseas expedition, this first expedition leadership job was for a group of 16 young people, it was a development expedition, aimed at building teamwork and leadership, as well as personal and social skills amongst the group.

Since 2000 I have led many expeditions like this, expeditions that I refer to a “Educational Expeditions”, and although I think that every expedition has a developmental purpose, I really feel that leading these style of expeditions for young people have many important outcomes and potential for change.

Young people having an opportunity to travel in this way can achieve so much, they embark on a journey that allows them to recognize their strengths, find out who they want to be, to touch the world, find out first hand what it is about, how it works, and develop their own ideas about a changing and often confusing world.

They develop their confidence, build resilience and motivation through engaging with physical and mental tasks, working in local communities, trekking in remote landscaped or undertaking scientific studies.

Personally, they get to find out who they are, what they like,what their views or values are and to have first hand experiences of the world. This important educational experience can lead to live changing decisions or to confirm the choices that these participants have made. Directing their futures and possibly influencing the future of their communities and the wider world.

This is education not just travel!

In the current world, where a new nationalistic politics is emerging, where neo-liberal policies are seriously impacting on the planet, the ongoing search for corporate profit and weakening governments which lead to environmental degradation, increased poverty and more conflicts , it is more important than ever to introduce Young people to both themselves and the world, these young people will be the future decision makers and voters, and the more they understand about the world and have personal contact with it, I hope will help them become better global citizens with more personal investment in helping create a better future.

So, in my mind my job on these ” Educational Expeditions” is to facilitate this experience, challenge and push the young people to look at themselves and the world differently. It is a crucial role to play and one I feel really privileged to undertake.

Over the next 3 weeks my team of 16 year old will go on a personal and social journey, immersing themselves in the communities they will travel through, but also challenging themselves to find out who they are, their values and their interests, with the hope that they will return home different, having been through a unique experience.

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Some of my teams initial thoughts about what they want to see and achieve on their expedition!

We arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday after a pretty long flight, and after a day or so in the City we travel to a village, where we will be based for a while, undertaking vital projects, both construction and educational where we will be actively involved with the school.  We will be delivering purposeful projects that benefit the local community (by improving their educational facilities) as well as the young people on the expedition themselves, through their engagement with the remote community and the projects that they will plan and deliver themselves.

Ill post again about the trip later in July…..

 

 

 

A 1000 miles or a Book?

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Over the last weekend I have been delivering a Bushcraft Course for a group of expedition leaders, and it has led me to reflect on a few things.

Bushcraft has become a contentious subject over the last few years, with every man and his dog having a say on what they believe it is about! A quick google search found  16,800,000 sites on the subject??

One of the subjects that came up regularly this weekend has been about where the participants can find more information about the subject, so i sign posted them to a few classics and a few of my favorites, but I am reflecting on the main thrust of my thoughts on bush craft, which is that is is about your journey and your interests and I wonder if books are useful, or if experience of traveling the world and finding your own path is better?

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There is an old Chinese proverb that states that ” travelling a thousand miles, is better than reading a thousand books”, initially as a bibliophile (an incessant reader, buyer and   collector of books, much to my long suffering wife’s chagrin) I read this and thought no way! I’ve learnt more knowledge from books than travel!  or have I?

As a youngster and into my adult life I have consumed knowledge from books, my         earliest memories are of encyclopedias, atlases and maps, sitting for hours soaking up  images and text on things that caught my attention or imagination. Maps drew me in to their patterns and to try and  wonder what mountains in the Himalayas looked like, so then I read climbing books,  reading about jungle animals led me to learn about jungle survival or about the lives and plight of  indigenous people.  For my chaotic brain it made sense to bounce around like this, to  acquire knowledge from many sources and devour inspirational words and language.

For me this was how I have and still do acquire my knowledge I’ll always have at least 3-4 books on the go at a time, one fiction, one biography,  one technical, one personal development, etc.

And so in my life these words created dreams in my mind, dreams of far off places,       animals and people, so when I travel I feel real privilege in seeing these places and       living those dreams.

But does this prove that travel is better than reading?

My travelling has inspired me further, sometimes to read new books!!!

But generally it has helped me learn about different people, just talking-to and sharing stories with people from all over the world, including those indigenous peoples I read about, I’ve learnt first-hand about cultures- mine and others.

I’ve seen global issues first hand, poverty, civil unrest, the aftermath of conflict, as well as the pressures of globalization. This has directed my political thinking and outlook, that has led to changes in my actions and behaviors.

I have felt the snow of the high mountains and struggled to feel oxygen getting into my lungs, I have slept under stars in deserts, and the canopy of jungles, and shivered away nights in arctic storms, just as I imagined after reading about Captain Oates and Scott.

All the time recognizing elements I have read about or imagined from reading, seeing and feeling first hand.

Travel and reading has formed me as a whole person, they have fed each other, and in reflection on the proverb I don’t think either could have done this on their own.

Reading provides imagination, knowledge and creates dreams from language, travel allows it to become real, to experience the world in all its beauty and horror, to meet people, share ideas and shape personality, but the two together, feeding off each other, wow, is that powerful, I know, I’ve felt it, the fact I can write this article is testament to that, not only has reading allowed me to deal with issues in my life- personal issues,  divorce, separation from my children, failures, successes, travel has allowed me a voice, a way of expressing my dreams and keeping me moving towards my goals.

So even if I read another thousand books, I’ll still need to travel another 1000 miles!

Into the Depths of the Amazon 2018-Expedition Return

Wow!

Just arrived home to the UK and now sitting in my car outside Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountaineering Centre on a misty Saturday morning, looking towards a hidden Snowdon.

Just starting to process the last few weeks on expedition.

The aim of the “Into the Depths of the Amazon 2018” expedition was to take “normal” people with an interest in expeditions; science and being part of a research expedition. These “citizen scientists” came together as a group to work together, alongside expedition professionals and zoologists to travel to a remote part of the Peruvian jungle to study the biodiversity , and in particular the weird and wonderful world of the insects, sometimes overlooked for more “gucci” wildlife.

After 2 weeks of living in our remote base camp the team left the jungle and returned to Cusco.

2 weeks of building the temporary camp, helping to do all the cooking, carry water from the water point, traveling out every day to monitor insect traps, camera traps and our survey sites.

Using all the skills in the group this group of people worked really well together and threw themselves into all aspects of the expedition. Meaning that they transitioned from individuals with different motivations and aims, into a functioning team collaborating and buying in to supporting each other and the expeditions vision.

And this is part of what expeditions do, they are about the participation of the people. And it’s the people who are the real success story of this expedition.

During our time in the field we have collected thousands of samples of bugs, beetles ( there is a difference!!) And flies. All of these will be sent to the Natural History Museum in London, where it is hoped that they will be studied and possibly we will find that some are exciting new species, or help us understand the range of other species, this is the legacy of the expedition and it is exciting to think that the work our participants undertook over the last few weeks will lead to broadening and widening our knowledge of the world!

In my slightly tired coffee addled brain this morning writing this post has made me realise how proud and excited I am by what we have achieved on this expedition, even before we have started the work of sifting through the collection from a scientific perspective, or reviewing our performance and logistics.

I am very proud that the idea that we proposed 18 months ago to engage a broad group of people who want to do something important and different in an expedition perspective, has proved successful.

And I am excited about the next steps, both the science findings, as well as the possibility of future expeditions in this style!! So stand by on both fronts.

Expedition Assemble!

So the team are starting to arrive!

A day of packing ahead, food for 11 people for 12 days on the ground, and enough kit to set up camps and undertake our science projects.

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After arriving in Cusco yesterday morning Ross and I headed to the Crees Foundation offices to start checking through our kit, this also included all the ropes and equipment needed to undertake some interesting studies of the canopy using a unique piece of equipment, this is so that the canopy is more accessible for people to haul themselves into this unique environment to study the animals and insects that live there.

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Once we finished we started to meet up with various team members who were trickling into the city, so by the evening 6 members of the team had arrived.

Ross was booked to do a talk at a indigiounous peoples cultural arts centre called Xapiri in the evening, so we all trooped along to hear him regal and inspire the audience with the reasons we know so little about life on earth, and talk about the work we intend to do. All expeditions need to have a legacy as well as a real purpose, so doing this talk and spreading the word may help people learn more and think more about protecting the environment.

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The whole team will be assembled ( just like the avengers!) By this evening , and tomorrow we start early on the road for the 9 hour journey into the Amazon, our route takes us over the Andes mountains and down through the cloud forest to the hot jungle and our study site.

The next time you hear from me will be in a few weeks time when I will be able to talk about some of the activity we have been involved in and have some stories to tell…..!

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