Leadership in the wild is very different from the leadership we see or experience in corporate life.  

After my podcast interview with Jeff Barrett, the Founder of Blue Mountain Wild school, I was giddy. I was excited because it made me think of leadership differently and with a fresh perspective. Let’s consider the stark contrast between leading in the unpredictable elements of the wild and leading a team at a company.  In the wild, you can’t hide. It is you, your leadership, and the elements:  

-Too cold, you didn’t prepare, sorry, you will freeze.

-Not enough or your food spoils, sorry, you will be hungry.

-Can’t find or build shelter, sorry, you will sleep in the cold rain.  

In the wild, at some point, you have to decide to go all-in or suffer potentially irreversible consequences.  Again, you can’t hide! But it isn’t personal.  Now, consider corporate life. Think about some of the reasons why leaders don’t go all in:

-They’re mad the shareholders got too much money.  

-They’re mad at the CEO because of the merger.  

-They’re mad because their bonus got cut. 

Leaders discover and nurture ways, legitimate or not, not to go all in, to not survive or thrive. In a corporate setting, they can pull that off for a long time too. And we see or hear about it, directly or indirectly, all of the time. If you think about your previous lousy customer experience, it is very possible it was being influenced by a leader who has pulled back, built a hedge, is playing games, or worse.  

In the wild, where nature’s fury and the elements can win EVERY day, not just the day, you can’t “pull back, build a hedge (unless it keeps you dry), play games, or worse.”

A colleague of mine cut his teeth in leadership in an environment like the “wild.”  He spent over a decade in hub and package operations at UPS. As he has described it, his leadership, or lack thereof, was always on display. There was no hiding at all! As he says, “when you lead and manage 400-600 workers who are negotiating thousands of miles of conveyor belt to sort 150K packages in 4.35 hours, you are either leading or dying.”

The wild vs. non-wild narrative in leadership makes me wonder how some leaders allow situations to influence how they lead their team. Are they selfish? Are they tired? Are they leaders at all? Have they finally crossed paths with the uncomfortable outcome or season that has pushed them too far? The questions are endless, for sure.

Here’s the Big Whipp: In the end, leaders lead the pack. They are either leading their team to success or into a ditch. Yes, it is true; outstanding leadership requires nuance and the wisdom to understand some gray areas. But, at the same time, I wonder if some leaders need exposure to the wild. Maybe they need an experience to re-ignite their passion for the people they serve to help them, not just survive but thrive in and out of the wild.

What do you think?  

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