“ Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first. ” Kurt Vonnegut
Consider experiential leadership training something that happens to you, unlike classroom leadership training which takes the form of something you are told. Things that happen to you, stick, and things you are told, fade. To develop capable leaders in your organization and orient them towards the future, you need to get them out in the world. And experiential learning is a time-tested way to get young, developing leaders out in the world. Effective leadership blossoms in contact with active situations of consequence that present challenging opportunities for struggle, re-evaluation, and growth. Our programs are designed in a safe and imaginative spirit, to foster the action, cooperation, and reflection a leader and their team require to coalesce and innovate. Though our facilitators draw the boundaries, the values derived, and the conclusions drawn from our experiential programs are the responsibility of the teams and individuals who undertake them. However, through the years, and after careful consideration and activity design, experiential education has proven highly effective at liberating a specific set of invaluable leadership and teamwork traits. We’d like to present an incomplete set of these traits nurtured by our programs.
“ The greatest skill by far, is the command of metaphor. ” -Aristotle
Flexible minds succeed. A fundamental trait of experiential training is the transfer of insights from the field, into the workplace and beyond. These truly evergreen lessons you acquire once, and apply a thousand times in a thousand scenarios. Applicable insights that transfer across different domains of work and life are learned metaphors, and therein lies their expansive power. Through a wild variety of adventures, activities, and experiences leaders can develop sophisticated pattern recognition skills. Experiential, outdoor leadership training extracts participants from their zones of comfort, submerges them in novel interactions and demands that they adapt, innovate, and cooperate to succeed. A thoughtful debrief guided by an experienced facilitator, assists the leaders to articulate the lessons and metaphors they have acquired or now appreciate in a new light. This transferable wisdom prepares leaders for new, complex situations imminent in the strange, inevitable future.
Empathy as a Default
“ People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ”- Maya Angelou
Strong leaders are empaths. They allow themselves to feel for their team, to imagine themselves, sincerely, in the position of others. Leaders who comprehend the dynamics and challenges their teams face can resonate authentically with their team’s reactions and responses. Walking through the fire together, or summiting a real or imagined peak arm-in-arm, pushes leaders to witness firsthand the tenacity and vulnerability of their teams. An empathetic team can function more cohesively as a unit because empathy reduces friction. Experiential leadership activities, subsequent debriefs, and reflections can be tailored to bring people into the mind and heart space of others, through articulated awareness of a parallel struggle, interdependent solution-building, and genuine consensus.
Creativity from Chaos
“ The species that survives is the one that is able to adapt. ” – Charles Darwin
Chaos is a confrontational teacher. New variables, particular parameters, and odd scenarios force the creative mind into action. Experiential education, in some manner, can be perceived as curated, controlled chaos. Facilitators set unique conditions that demand leaders and teams become aware of novelty in their situation and environment. These unique conditions in the form of arduous activities, complex scenarios, and quirky rulesets, challenge developing leaders to work across the hemispheres of their brains, and across the skillsets of their groups to bring order out of the chaos. Adaptability is a skill, and confrontation is a gift. Experiential leaders are trained to relish confrontation with the unknown, the abyss that represents new and interesting ideas, possible paradigm shifts, and improved operating systems.
Cooperation and Trust, a Virtuous Cycle
“ Can we ever truly know anyone well? Let’s just say we often found ourselves in one another’s company. And neither of us minded. ” – Bernard Werber
Fearful leaders lead fearful teams. Experiential training sets safe conditions for leaders to let go, and for teams to succeed through the diversity of their knowledge. Nobody is superman. In business, success and progress are collective actions. Collective struggle and adventure in experiential programs ask individuals to show themselves, so leaders can recognize the unique asset each person brings and create more harmonious solutions. Happily, the revelation of the special character of each individual in a team is almost alchemical, seeing people as they are, clearly, sets the stage for cooperation. Trusting the unique fingerprint of each person’s contribution breeds productive interdependence, allowing teams to shift and mold their solutions most appropriate for the task at hand. Cooperation is harmony, and trust the notes that bind it together. Experiential training is tailor-made to elicit this virtuous loop of trust and cooperation.
The End. For Now.
Some lists are complete, this one is not. We want this brief set of acquirable traits to grease the wheels, to be a peek into a wide and illuminating scene of potential growth for leaders who commit themselves to learning. Our experiential programs are at heart, a dialogue between facilitators, leaders, and teams. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring any more than the mediums or the weathermen. What is relevant, changes. And we want to prepare ourselves and the leaders and teams we train, with skills and traits that are proven beneficial for meeting the remarkable changes that will come, head-on.