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Training Room: Expedition Behavior - The Foundation of NOLS Leadership

By John Kanengieter
NOLS Professional Training Institute Director
Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2002, Vol. 17, No. 2

I think back to an expedition that I was a member of in the Western Garhwal of the Indian Himalaya. Besides myself, five other NOLS instructors were scouting a new program for NOLS and as a side trip, we turned our focus to make an alpine style attempt of Panwali Dwar, a once climbed peak in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Throughout the next month the weather was uncooperative and the avalanche dangers were extreme. Turning back within 300 vertical feet of the summit was difficult, and seemingly unfair, but also a necessary part of the climbing game when the situation dictates.

As the years have passed since then, I still reflect on that trip as one of the best experiences of my life. The reason was the great camaraderie I shared with my fellow expedition members. They were all masters of sound expedition behavior.

In the last issue of The Leader we looked at the four styles of leadership that we incorporate into the NOLS program, now we turn to the seven skills that we believe make good leaders. Good expedition behavior is at the foundation, and the first of these seven skills.

Leaders both have, and help create, good expedition behavior.

On an expedition, a group is self-supporting, living and learning together. This demands that the group functions well as a unit. Expedition behavior is partially explained by good teamwork and personal responsibility. It also includes what it takes for a group to thrive over an extended time period. This involves the balancing of group and individual needs, flexibility, risking conflict for growth, encouraging group members to feel the consequences of their actions with empathy, play, and hard work. Expedition behavior requires leaders and group members to treat each other with dignity and respect and take responsibility for working through their problems. Good expedition behavior creates an atmosphere that is supportive, fun, comfortable and enables learning. Also at the heart of superior expedition behavior is a good sense of humor that allows for mistakes both in oneself and in others. With good expedition behavior, leadership becomes an activity and process that people participate in together.

Often times when an expedition fails, it is due to poor expedition behavior. Members become so caught up in their own personal goals that they lose sight of the mission of the group. Soon to follow are poor relations and communication that break down the cohesion of the group and can also put the group at risk. This same breakdown can happen in the workplace when team members become self-serving without looking for possibilities that can be achieved by the group as a whole.

By modeling good expedition behavior, a leader will incorporate trust, support and well being among group members. With this foundation teams achieve their goals in a productive way that allows for reaching further goals in the future.

In the next issue of The Leader, we will look at the second leadership skill that NOLS focuses on-competence. Until then, lead on!


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