A few years ago, I was in the Ocala National Forest experiencing a 3-day bare-bones wilderness training program with six men. Bare-bones means you can bring nothing except a few essentials. Since it was early March, temperatures dropped to the mid-30s at night, so we were allowed to bring a sleeping bag. Small victories!
For some reason, I was elected the leader of the group by my peers, who I had just met when we hiked deep into the forest from a remote parking lot. We had a paramedic in our group, so he was responsible for everyone’s first aid needs. I needed him once, but that’s another story.
This story is about one of the participants who is not pictured above. One of our tasks was to locate a source for drinking water, since we couldn’t bring in any outside food or water. The only accessible water for miles was this small body of water that was home to several alligators. They kept their beady eyes on us every time we dipped our stainless-steel bottles into their watering hole. And, believe me, I kept my eyes on them too.
We had to filter and purify this water before drinking it. It was quite nasty and had a foul odor to it. But staying hydrated was essential. There are many ways to do this, but I won’t get into that for this story. I filtered and purified my water just fine and I actually liked it. It was refreshing and I took several trips to that gator water, carefully and never at night.
The participant not in photo is a young man I’ll name Jim. He never made it to the end of our experience, when we took this photo. In fact, he barely made it through the first night.
Jim joined us because he was preparing for his audition on the TV Show “Alone”. He was proud of all of the knowledge he had for surviving in the wild. In fact, he gave us a demonstration in making a fall trap.
Jim’s limitation revealed itself, though, when it came to preparing his drinking water. He didn’t want to go near the water, and he gagged at the smell of it. He didn’t want to purify his water or accept purified water from others. Later in the day, however, Jim got very thirsty. So, in his haste, and against our advice, he drank his dirty water.
Fast forward to our first night in a shared shelter that we built. About two hours into the cold evening, I heard him outside of our shelter gagging and vomiting. Many times. And very loudly. We all asked if we could help him. He said he just had a coughing attack and it caused him to throw up. However, we all knew that the water he drank made him ill. He wouldn’t admit it. Nor would he allow us to do anything to console him.
The next morning, he had some reason why he needed to immediately hike out and go back home. In reality, Jim’s reason was pride. He came into the experience with a know-it-all approach and wouldn’t accept help from others. His pride was in his own way of learning and enjoying a great experience in the wild.
There are many definitions for the meaning of leadership and a never-ending supply of articles relating to leadership (this one included). In fact, if you Google the word leadership, you will get more than 5,750,000,000 results. I'm going to make it simple for you to recognize leadership attributes.
One of our core values at Wildside Institute is Leadership: We strive to support, guide and inspire others to be their absolute best. In a nutshell, that's how I like to define a good leader. One who supports, guides and inspires others is at the very foundation of leadership.
Is that something that you practice every day? Even if you aren't in a leadership role within your company, you can demonstrate these leadership qualities. If it's in your nature, or whether you work to build these skills, you can support, guide and inspire others in every aspect of your life.
Our 6th President, John Quincy Adams, said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
These are succinct indicators of leadership. What I interpret from President Adams' quote is that you are a leader if your actions inspire others to:
Leadership and being strategic don't always go hand-in-hand. Leaders who don't think and act strategically may face frustration or it may take longer to achieve expected outcomes. Being intent on strategic thinking starts with building skills and acquiring the traits necessary to make a difference at a strategic level. Consider how your leadership thoughts and actions may become more strategic if you developed these traits:
FUTURE-BASED: You anticipate needs and opportunities and take action for future-focused initiatives.
COLLABORATIVE: You engage well with others to share ideas and seek solutions together. You put the needs of others ahead of yourself.
INNOVATIVE: You are not afraid of new methods and you encourage new ideas and original thoughts. This may also require some risk-taking to take action with new ideas.
FOCUSED: Although you see the big picture, you are capable of sifting through the noise and targeting the right tasks. As a leader, you also support others in staying focused on what's important.
LIFE-LONG LEARNER: You are naturally curious and you proactively seek knowledge and skills. You are also willing to teach others. This leads to an environment of continuous improvement.
Preparedness may be one of the most important traits you can develop as a leader. Navy Seals know this trait very well, as they say, “two is one and one is none”. This mantra means you are ready for any situation. It means you have a backup if you lose or break gear, encounter unexpected conditions or need to help others. For all that can surprise you in the field or in life, you need a backup. In fact, having a backup for the backup is even better.
This level of preparedness is a great practice for any situation. Being prepared demonstrates strategic thinking and it puts you in a position to lead. It signifies you are proactive and anticipating what may be needed for any scenario. You acquire and carry the tools needed to attain your goals, no matter the obstacles. Others naturally follow you because you’re prepared. When others fail because they don’t have what is needed to survive, you have the ability to keep moving forward.
How many times have you heard about people lost while driving or hiking and they come close to death? Unfortunately, sometimes they do die in these situations. People come to rely on their mobile devices so much that they forget to carry a paper map. Or they underestimate how extreme the weather can become. Or a myriad of other circumstances build up to put them in risky situations, none for which they are prepared. When your mobile device dies or doesn’t get a signal, it’s an example of ‘one is none’. It’s useless to have that one item if it doesn’t work. Having a backup is necessary for every situation.
I study and practice using my survival skills. I’m not a full-blown prepper, but I’ll admit that I’m a little over the top when it comes to preparedness. My wilderness survival skills, first aid training, self-defense abilities and situational awareness usually make me the go-to person when others need help. I like to help others when they are in need, but it’s frustrating when others put themselves in situations that leave them unacceptably under-prepared.
I’ll use an experience I commonly have while hiking as an example. I don’t usually like busy trails, but sometimes they are unavoidable when I want to hike to something specific like waterfalls or landmarks. Every time I’ve hiked these well-traveled trails, I find others who come so ill prepared that I wonder if they’ll even find their way back to the trailhead. They wear flip-flops for multiple-mile trails that have varying terrain and elevation. They have no water. They have no first aid. They have no maps (although most of these trails are well marked). They have no clue what could wrong. And, they carry infants or take toddlers along with them, with no idea what the trail is like or if they can even make the trek. The one thing they always have is their cell phone, which, ironically, rarely works on these trails. Inevitably, they realize they are surrounded by wilderness, tired, thirsty and somewhat lost. I am consistently asked, “how do I get back to the parking lot”, “what’s down that trail” or “how much higher does this trail go”. I explain the trail marking system, let them know they are in for a more difficult hike than they expected and take their picture for them on their cell phone.
When in the wild or in a professional setting (sometimes it’s difficult to tell the two scenarios apart), the person that is most prepared often becomes the leader by default. Others gravitate to the person with the most tools, gadgets, knowledge, food and water, whatever is needed to survive. The person with the most usually becomes the group leader because that person has what others need or want.
Why, then, do those in leadership positions often overlook the basic survival trait of preparedness? Perhaps some are too proud to admit that Plan A may not work, or that they hired the wrong person, or maybe they didn’t do enough research. It’s not a failure to have to use Plan B or C or W. It is, however, a failure to not have those backup plans.
A two-is-one leader not only demonstrates preparedness for him or her self, but also gives those around them the tools they need to succeed. Are you prepared to be the leader or are you going to rely on someone else to provide you with the knowledge, gear, direction and whatever else you may need to not only survive, but to thrive?
Learn how to prepare your mental state, physical surroundings and attitude to gain more clarity in the New Year.
When was the last time that little light bulb materialized over your head? You’ll remember it because it probably made you giddy, perhaps gasp out loud and initiated a profound change in your life.
I know when my coaching clients have that light bulb shining bright over their head because they suddenly proclaim “Oh yeah!” or “Of course!” during our session. It’s usually followed by “why didn’t I realize that before?” or “that makes perfect sense now”. It’s that “now I get it” moment during coaching that typically prompts a positive change.
That “Aha!” moment is so critical to sparking inspiration, comprehension and clarity. That “Aha!” moment is the abrupt realization of a solution, a breakthrough and even a vision. It leads to some sort of change and it’s almost always what is needed to get off the “I’m stuck” viewpoint.
What will it take to trigger these blockbuster breakthroughs for you in 2019? You actually can prompt these insights more often if you prepare in these three areas:
1) Mental State
Scientists have proven that an idle brain is actually far more active than a brain that is focused on completing a task. Carve out time to idle down your thoughts. Create quiet time for yourself and your mind every day if possible. It allows you to feel recharged and ready to take on new information. Try not to skimp on this. Be disciplined in allowing quiet time for yourself on a regular basis and notice the new energy you gain. That energy may stimulate an “Aha!” moment that you would never have noticed before.
2) Physical Environment
Along with the quiet time that makes room in your head for new ideas, make room in your physical space to eliminate distractions. Clear your space of clutter and chaos. This will improve your focus. Reposition yourself once in a while to see things from a different perspective. Be mindful of your space and how you’re viewing life. What can you do to change your scenery or inspire new ideas? Take control over the space in which you live, work and play.
Your attitude is an all-encompassing mindset that drives your emotions and actions. This area is so powerful in reflecting who you really are that you may not realize its influence in your character and how others view you. To create more “Aha!” moments, develop a positive attitude that welcomes new thoughts, ideas and opportunities. Think of your own emoji and what others see on your face. If you’re positive, your face appears open and friendly. That openness is actually an open door for new insights and comprehension. Check your attitude consistently to make sure you’ll not only recognize an “Aha!” moment but also have room to let it in and transform your life.
These are big areas to control in your life, but so important for continuous improvement, creative breakthroughs and deeper understandings. Leaders and successful people welcome and even expect “Aha!” moments on a regular basis. It initiates positive change, bright ideas and bold actions.
I wish you the best for 2019 and many “Aha!” breakthrough moments.
We can create happiness and good memories more often if we make everyday a S’more kind of day.
What is it about that tasty trio of toasted gooey marshmallow and sweet melted chocolate sandwiched between two graham crackers that makes kids smile and allows adults to indulge? Girl Scout troops first recorded making these delicious fireside treats in 1925. The girls continuously asked for “some more” and so started the S’more tradition.
S’mores bring back happy memories of summer camp, beachside campfires and family camping trips. It’s a treat that’s synonymous with summer, camping, fellowship and fun. Build a campfire and you most certainly must have the three S’more ingredients available for all to enjoy.
But, what if you transferred this delicious snack to your own kitchen? It sort of looses its luster holding your marshmallow stick over the stovetop burner. In fact, my guess is that Mom would not allow such a thing. Suddenly, it isn’t fun anymore.
Perhaps it’s because with the making of S’mores over an outside fire, comes the story telling, the family time, the comradery with neighbors, the disappointment when the marshmallow falls into the fire and the giggling when the marshmallow oozes off the side of the graham cracker. It’s the total experience, including the treats to your nose with chocolate smell, your ears with fire crackling and your eyes with smoke.
Unfortunately, when people go indoors, they forget about the fireside experiences and all of the mindset that goes with it. They become more aware of self and less engaged with others. This goes well beyond the making of S’mores.
My husband and I travel in our R.V. a lot and I’ve noticed a phenomenon that I describe as “the camping mindset”. You have experienced it yourself if you have ever stayed at a campground or spent the night in the wild. The camping mindset is truly a wonderful thing. It can make stressed-out adults act like kids again, it makes every stranger a friend and it allows children to explore freely.
The camping mindset phenomenon begins when you set up camp and your neighbor asks if you need help. It continues when you see groups of children riding their bikes without adult supervision and perfect strangers strike up conversations that ultimately turn into the sharing of grilled food. Simple acts of kindness continue as the pace slows and people start paying attention to one another. People wave all the time. Kids invite other kids to play gaga ball with them. Air conditioners hum on the tops of campers, but everyone is outside. There are TVs, but most people aren’t looking at screens or distracted with technology. Kids run and play, pick up sticks and inspect insects. People sit and relax. They tell stories around the campfire. There is fishing and hiking. The swimming pool is popular and kids respect the lifeguards. There is very little crying or bickering or selfishness. There is instant social connection. It’s like a small town where everyone knows and looks out for one another. And yet, they are all strangers. They come together to enjoy the outdoors, take a respite from work and enjoy family and friends.
I witness this blissful mindset shift right about the time a family is packing to go home. Their thoughts go back to home and work and responsibilities. They morph themselves into a frantic gotta-go mode that throws all of the kindness and camaraderie out the window. They drive in slow, but they drive fast when they leave, not looking out for others in their path or caring about what may be in their wake. Their pace swings into high gear and frustration begins to mount. Once gone, the camping mindset is gone too.
We get home and the screens come on. The kids retreat to their rooms. The air conditioning hums throughout the house and the yard is silent. The neighborhood has no kids riding bikes. You hear no laughter from porches. Nobody is waving to each other.
Why has our society become one of retreating from one another instead of embracing one another? We have more conflict than camaraderie. We have more me than we.
However, what if that camping mindset carried over into every aspect of our life? What if there is a slower pace at home, with less screen time and more outdoor time? What if we told stories around the dining table just like we did around the campfire? What if we all waved to one another and sincerely talked to our neighbors? What if we struck up a conversation with a stranger regularly? That mindset of camaraderie around the campfire can be extended to the office, the coffee shop, the dining table and every facet of our lives.
How enjoyable would that be? It would be a life of curiosity and wonder. Stress would be minimized. Selfishness would be diminished. We would learn more and be open to new experiences and friendships. Families would bond daily, not just once or twice a year on vacation.
The sweetness of a S’more goes well beyond what we taste. It’s the memories of all the senses that make us smile. We can create happiness and good memories more often in our lives if we make everyday a S’more kind of day. If we make every day a camping mindset day we will be open to helping others, acknowledging our differences and enjoying life.
We create our own pace. We design our own mindset. And, when it’s positive, we influence others. We become leaders without even trying because others want what we have. Our camping mindset becomes our everyday mindset. We have peace and contentment all because sandwiching a gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate between two graham crackers brings us together and makes us smile.
Belinda Gates, ACC
Belinda's leadership development and executive coaching services support engineers, utilities, contractors and manufacturing companies as well as other corporate clients and non-profit organizations.