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Leadership; NOLS Style


By John Kanengieter, NOLS Professional Training Institute (PTI) Director
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2001, Vol. 17, No. 1

At the heart of the NOLS education is the understanding of what it means to be a leader. For many, leadership is an elusive concept that somehow seems out of reach or ill-defined. We can often recognize qualities in leaders that we try to emulate, but what is the map they read that brings them to success?

These leaders are adept both in the field and at their work. Many of our students mention that their leadership education at NOLS is what makes the difference for them when they transfer their skills and experience to work, home or school. In this and future articles of the Training Room, I will define the NOLS four leadership types and seven leadership skills, further developing this core concept that comprises much of the NOLS curriculum.

Leadership means timely, appropriate actions that guide and support your group to set and achieve realistic goals. Great leaders create an environment that inspires individuals and groups to achieve their full potential. On expeditions or in well functioning work groups, one will usually find four types of leadership that are displayed: designated leadership, active followers, peer leadership and self leadership. When each of these types of leadership are fulfilled, the group often meets its goals with clear direction and as a high performance team.

Designated leadership: The designated leader is the head architect and guardian of the group process. They can delegate and should collaborate when possible, but can't abdicate responsibility and accountability. Complex, potentially risky or tough activities and decisions are best handled with a designated leader guiding or monitoring the process.

Active Followership: Expedition members show good leadership by following the leadership of others. They seek clarity, give input, respect the plan, help out, and work for the betterment of the group and its goals.

Peer Leadership: In peer leadership, each person sees what needs to be done and does it without a hierarchy. All members assure quality completion of group tasks, functions and goals. Peer leadership works better when members clarify who is responsible for what.

Self-Leadership: A group member is a leader by virtue of who they are and how they influence others, not by the position they hold. This is leadership through character and judgment.

As I work in any group, it is important for me to clarify my role and thus perform the necessary tasks within that role. Am I a designated leader or am I a group member? What is the next step that I will take to further the purpose and mission of the group?

At NOLS, we have found that wild areas are excellent places for people to learn leadership. The situations are real, and feedback is often immediate. A NOLS graduate should be able to plan and lead their peers on a successful wilderness trip. But leadership skills gained on a course are applicable well beyond the limits of an outdoor expedition. Leadership learned in the wilderness transfers to leadership in a wide range of human endeavors.

In the coming issues of the Leader, we will be further defining the NOLS seven leadership skills, and giving a structure and format to these four types of leadership that gives clarity to this often elusive topic. Until then, lead on!


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