Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Review - Outdoor Leadership

Outdoor Leadership is not a new book. I picked it up at a charity book fair recently, and decided it looked interesting. It turned out to be a good choice (unlike some of the other books I picked up at the book fair!)

Back in Canada, I used to organise day hikes for small groups. However, I was never really comfortable with the idea of being the "leader" of these hikes. I didn't feel I had the skills or the experience to be a leader in the outdoors. The fact that I have a terrible sense of direction didn't do much to boost my confidence either! Thankfully, my leadership skills were never really tested in an emergency situation. Nobody was ever seriously hurt, and we never got so lost that a bit of backtracking wouldn't fix it.

Outdoor Leadership doesn't teach you about outdoors techniques. Instead, it focuses on what leadership means, and how to apply it to outdoor adventure situations. Even though I don't currently lead trips, I think it taught me a lot of valuable things. First of which was - even if you don't think your trip needs a leader (because it's just a group of friends or a family) that need will become apparent if something goes wrong. It also reminds us that you don't have to be the most experienced, skilled or fittest person on the trip in order to be a good leader.

The book outlines approaches to leadership which help you to improve your planning, keep everyone safe, encourage those who are struggling or not enjoying themselves, keep bad situations from getting worse (or dangerous), and keep the peace when the group disagrees about what to do.

There was a lot of thought and experience put into this advice, not only from the author, but through contributions from other leaders of outdoor pursuits and organisations. Much of the advice is useful in everyday life, as well as the wilderness.

He includes a chapter on women as outdoor leaders, which was one of the reasons I picked up the book. Women still face certain stereotypes when it comes to the outdoors, and often have to fight for the respect of their male peers and group members. But women can be very effective in the outdoors, even those who are not exceptionally physically strong. And women do take a different approach to leading than men, if they believe they can pull it off. Less secure women will often mimic male leadership styles they've seen because they think it's the only way to win respect.

Anyway, the book is well worth reading if you ever take groups out into the wild, whether working for a outfitting business, or volunteering with a hiking club. Even if the only group you lead is your family, you will appreciate some of the techniques for keeping everyone safe and happy, and getting the most out of the trip.

1 comment:

dogscratcher said...

"The fact that I have a terrible sense of direction didn't do much to boost my confidence either!"

That's one of the things that got me into rafting: the only direction I really need to know is "downstream."