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Expedition Leadership | Leadership Roles | Leadership Skills
Leadership Style | Leadership in 30 Days | Leadership Profiles

“I like to give students the skills and tools to succeed as leaders and then give them real responsibilities and challenges to tackle.”

- Brien Sheedy • NOLS Instructor since 1992

At NOLS we develop leadership by giving you the chance to do it. But it’s not just “practice,” it’s reality, for the wilderness is a place where decisions—good and poor—have immediate consequences. All NOLS courses, regardless of length, practice leadership. Here's an example of how students learn leadership on a 30-day NOLS course:

Week 1

Photo: Tony Jewell

From the beginning of a NOLS course, instructors teach and role-model leadership. You'll watch as they demonstrate solid leadership skills, including helping the group set goals and move toward them, making quick decisions, and creating a positive learning environment. Instructors help students focus on self leadership as they prepare for the other leadership roles to come.

Week 2

Photo: Brien Sheedy

In the second week of a 30-day course, students continue to listen and learn from their instructors, but they also start taking on leadership roles of their own. This might mean giving input when the group is discussing the day's travel route, or actively stepping up to volunteer to cook breakfast or set up the shelter. Active followership and peer leadership really begin to take hold at this point.

Weeks 2-3

Photo: Fredrik Norrsell

Now leadership isn't just a concept—it's a reality as students move into roles as designated leaders serving as "leaders of the day." These situations require them to consult with their peers, make decisions and use good judgment as they travel through the wilderness. During the third week, student "leaders of the day" will hike with a group for the day without instructors, getting the feel of what it means to be a leader, or to actively follow the guidance of someone else in your group. At the end of the day, students meet with their instructors to “de-brief” the day and learn from their experiences.

Week 4

Photo: Matt Deines

In the final days of many NOLS courses, students travel as an independent student expedition without instructors. This is an opportunity for your group to put all the leadership lessons of the past three weeks together and form a high-functioning team. It is the last step to being able to lead others on wilderness trips.

After your NOLS course…

Photo: Missy White

The important leadership skills students gain at NOLS don't get left behind after a NOLS course. From the classroom to the boardroom, NOLS graduates use their new-found leadership abilities in many different ways. When our graduates continue their adventures in the wilderness, they're able to make good decisions without their NOLS Instructors. As a NOLS graduate, you will have the skills, experience and background necessary to lead others comfortably and responsibly in the backcountry — and anywhere else.


NOLS' extended expeditions allow students to watch and learn from their instructors before eventually stepping out in front in real leadership situations.
© Brien Sheedy

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