Backpacking in Wyoming's Wind River Range. Photo by Daniel Lay.
For hikers who are wondering “why no one wants to follow me anymore,” NOLS Field Instructor and Research Manager Shannon Rochelle recently shared some leadership advice with Backpacker. Pitfalls range from failing to get the group’s buy-in to being a cheerleader rather than a hike leader—but luckily, adjusting your leadership approach can make a big difference.
“Shannon Rochelle, research manager and field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, has a few theories about why no one wants to follow you anymore.
You fail to define the trip and get everyone’s buy-in.
In your exhilaration over the pending assault on Peak X, you might have left questions about key priorities unanswered, such as:
Is this trip only about bagging the peak?
Is it also about having a great time outdoors?
What’s the group’s ability and tolerance for risk?
Successful leaders get the group to answer—and agree on—these key questions. Next job: Sticking with the answers.
You make group decisions by yourself.
A good leader insists that, before any big decisions are made, everyone’s opinion is heard.
You let the group make “leader” decisions.
Exception to the previous rule: When somebody sprains an ankle and thunder is rumbling overhead, democracy means you’re doing it wrong. Time for benevolent dictatorship. ‘Mary, you help Dan walk. Tony, you make sure we stay on the trail. I’ll carry Dan’s pack. We’ll stop at timberline.’
You try to solve all your hiking companion’s problems.
She’s hurting. He’s worried. Shelve the solutions, and encourage her to vent. Explore his fears. Sometimes being heard is all they need. You can strategize later…”
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