NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School Home
The Leader

Training Room:
Leadership Do's and Don'ts, Part I

By John Kanengieter, Director of the Professional Training Institute of NOLS, and John Gookin
Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 2000, Vol. 16, No. 3

Think back to a trip you might have taken when everyone in your group gels together and takes their part in creating a successful expedition. As a leader, you have been attentive to the needs of individuals while also balancing the goals that you have set out. Now, also think back to a time when things haven't gone so well. As a leader, you have noticed that the group is starting to break down and you remember many little problems that have added up to a dismal whole. In the next two installments of the Leader, we would like to look at the positive habits and faux pas of leadership. Awhile back, John Gookin, the NOLS Curriculum Manager, facilitated a meeting with various NOLS staff and collectively produced some of these do's and don'ts of leadership. This issue will look at some of the simple and positive leadership traits that help you accomplish group goals.

Pitch in. If someone else initiates a worth while team project that helps the group move towards its goals, lend a hand.

Don't pitch in. Some jobs, like tying your shoe, are one-person jobs where good teamwork means doing them alone. Other jobs are just other people's responsibilities and we should just let them do them alone.

Take initiative. Be the one who initiates an action that helps your group move towards a group goal. Timing is everything.

Don't take initiative. If you're always the one who takes the lead in making group events happen, be sure to let others take the lead too. Sometimes, this means standing back and letting others figure things out.

Speak up. If you have a contribution to make to the group, speak up, now.

Don't speak up. Sometimes it is better for the group if you let other people have a turn speaking.

Practice equity in the group. Take turns and do your share. What comes around goes around.

Don't practice equality in the group. Avoid having everyone watch the meal cook at the same time, just because it is "more fair".

Help others get organized. Folks who aren't organized will sometimes improve if someone like you will help them establish a system that will better their habits.

Don't help others get organized. Sometimes people learn more by making decisions on their own and having to implement their own decisions.

Be on time. Get up early. Organize your gear. Take care of essential tasks. Plan in time after the morning's chores to sit back, relax, sip tea and look at the map.

Don't be on time. There are rare cases, like some personal conflicts and critical safety issues, that are more important than meeting group commitments. Just be sure to tell the rest of the group as soon as you realize you'll miss the deadline. If you just got up late, it is better to state, "I have no excuse" than it is to explain why you are late. And if you are usually late for things, don't expect much understanding, no matter how legitimate you think your lateness is.

Keep an eye on the map. By keeping careful watch on the map and the terrain you pass, you can be invaluable to any group, possibly trimming miles off the route.

Remind people to take care of business at the start of hiking breaks. This includes drinking water, using the bathroom, putting on moleskin, etc.

Remind people of what to do next, unobtrusively. Help people learn to think for themselves by steering them towards things, subtly. Eventually they should develop habits to act on their own. It is important that you deliver a message of cooperation, not competition, when you are helping other people.

Let folks have a bad day. Sometimes we all need a break and others can pick up the slack so the group still functions well enough.

Don't let folks have a bad day. When things get "real", the group needs full effort from everyone. Get people psyched. Stir up the adrenaline. Help everyone focus.

Have higher standards for yourself than for the group. If you expect others to be on time and pitch in, you'd better role-model higher standards than you want the norms to be.

Let folks know what you like about them. If people are helping the group, let them know it's appreciated so they'll keep doing it. This can nurture a relationship which makes it more fair in case you ever have any constructive criticism for them.

Don't tolerate moral compromise. If you see a clique pushing someone into the role of course scapegoat, let them know this is destructive and intolerable, quickly.

Carry some extra group gear without anyone knowing it. Put some extra fuel or food in your pack so everyone else gets a slight break and you get extra training.

Keep an eye on others. If folks get cold, tired, hot, or hungry, they can get tunnel vision and not realize what they're doing. Converse with folks to assess their level of consciousness. If they're fading, fix the situation long before it spirals downward.

If you know the group is making an error, do something about it. This can include navigation, route finding, socializing, hiking too hard, being lazy, eating too much, not drinking enough, or anything else that affects the group.

Prepare for hikes the night before. See how folks are feeling. Review the map. Repair gear. By the time a hike begins, leaders should feel like their job is half over.

Encourage flexibility. Be the one in the group who leads the way in letting changes roll off your shoulder. Point out how flexibility allows for good things to happen.

Be both self-critical and self-respectful. At a debrief, mention things you could have done better and things you did well, first, before you critique anyone else.

Deal with things. If someone is doing something you don't like, say so.

Don't deal with things. If someone is doing something that bothers you a little, but it's not a big deal, suck it up. But remember that you lose all rights of complaint: the NOLS Expedition Behavior standard is that you deal with the problem, or it becomes your problem.

Speak for yourself. Use 'I language'. Say "When I see you do X, I feel like Y."

Say what you want. If you want people to stop doing certain things, say so. If you want people to start doing things a certain way, say so.



NOLS Top of Page
NOLS Home About Us Courses Wilderness Medicine Institute NOLS Professional Training Alumni Store Donate Account NOLS Home Parents Press Room School Resources Photos NOLS.TV Events WRMC The NOLS Blog Introduction About Leadership History Mission & Values Profiles Partnerships Frequent Questions Find a Course Skills School Locations School Locations Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit Find a Course Skills School Locations Course Types Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit NOLS Pro Home 1-3 Day Courses 7-30 Day Courses Risk Management Staff Clients Design Your Course Contact NOLS Pro NOLS Pro 1-3 Days 7-30 Days Risk Management Clients Contact Us NOLS Pro Design Your Course NOLS Pro Staff Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Case Studies Overview Administrative Training Staff Training Consulting Conference: WRMC How to Apply Apply Online Download an Application Admission Policies WMI Home About WMI Courses Schedule FAQ Photos & Movies Curriculum Updates Employment Sponsors WMI Home About WMI Admissions Courses Schedule Host a Course Resources Gallery Alumni Home Trips and Events The Leader Alumni Chapters Employment Staying in Touch Volunteer Photos & Videos Home NOLS Photos NOLS.TV The NOLS Podcast NOLS on Flickr Leave No Trace Overview Leave No Trace Principles Leave No Trace Master Educator Courses Host a Course Contact Map of Events Dream Expedition Leadership Week Press Room Images for the Press Archives