“You look so happy and pleased with yourselves….I’m proud of you and of course I love your leader.”
This was a comment left by a dear friend of mine on a Facebook post one of my backpacking companions made after our Bomber Mountain summit last August. When I read the remark my heart, and ego, swelled with pride.
Obviously, I was the aforementioned leader of the group, there was no doubt in my mind. I am the one who used to own an outdoor store, the one who was the director of a collegiate outdoor education program, and the one who is trained as a wilderness first responder. Yet, there was a sinking feeling deep inside me that suggested I ought not boast about this comment to my companions. I also wondered which one of them would bring it up first.
Sure enough, the next time we were all together someone said, “Hey, did you guys see the comment Barbara made on Wendy’s Facebook post about our trip?” As I listened to the other three women theorize about which one of us Barbara was referring to, I realized that they all know Barbara and they all thought she could have meant them. I interjected and stated that she clearly had been referring to me. This notion went over like a lead balloon.
You see, the three women I backpack with are all accomplished outdoor adventurers, not to mention powerhouse leaders in their professional lives. Hmmmm, maybe Barbara hadn’t been implying that I was the leader? I was tempted to call and ask to whom she was referring, but then it occurred to me that I would like to continue being a part of the annual adventure.
In contemplating Barbara’s intention, perhaps my view of leadership was too narrow. The National Outdoor Leadership School defines four types of leaders: designated leader, active follower, peer leader and self leader. With this in mind, all four of us are indisputably “the leader.”
When we are in the wilderness for five days, do I really think of myself as the designated leader? No, of course not. All four of us expect one another to actively pursue self leadership at the highest level possible. We always discuss and reach group consensus before making significant decisions, and we all have unique and valuable skills that are required for a successful trip. By stepping in and out of the designated leader role and intentionally employing the other three leadership roles, our small group is fortunate because we’ve no need for a solitary designated leader.
Leadership in our everyday lives is no different than in outdoor adventuring. I recognize that on many outdoor expeditions, as well as in everyday frontcountry situations there is implicit need for designated leaders. However, not everybody wants to be a designated leader and that’s OK. Recognizing and embracing active followership and peer leadership roles is paramount in the success of any team. Look up lone nut leadership on YouTube to see exactly what I mean.
So, who is the leader? We all are! The most important leadership role everyone has is being a thoughtful and deliberate self leader.
Julie Greer is a member of the Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources Commission.