NWE’s approach to teaching wilderness skills, environmental studies, Risk management and most importantly servant-leadership is supported, encouraged and practiced daily.
Being in Charge is not everything
According to Robert Greenleaf’s definition of servant leadership; “The Servant-Leader is servant first. It Begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire too lead. That person is sharply different from one who is a leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power to drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
At NWE, we create learning environments that inspire a style of leadership—Servant leadership—that looks and feels different from ways in which leadership styles are often presented or understood. Leadership is not the loudest person at the front of the line or the bully who uses threats and fear. Nor does leadership default to the person with the highest IQ, the biggest muscles or the most experience. In fact, we have found, that across 60 years of programs and countless days in the field, effective leadership hinges on the ability to engage and motivate others with compassion.
Instead of being the first person up the trail to conquer the mountain or being the first to successfully pitch their tent, we encourage students to think about what is required to help their whole crew overcome a challenge. Individual mastery of skills is, of course, a focus of the Instructor/student dynamic. At the same time, however, Instructors challenge students to consider the meaning of success. Have we achieved success if one person on the crew cannot master a skill or is left behind?
What does it mean for the crew if someone struggles or feels left out? At NWE, we don’t just “move on,” “let it go,” or “ignore.” We stop and reflect. We ask the students to put themselves in the shoes of their crewmate; to consider how they might feel in that circumstance if roles were reversed. We ask them to consider what they will represent or what they will stand for when put in that situation. We ask them to consider the role they play in the experience and success of the entire crew. Through an intentional process of individual and group reflection, we ask them to share their thoughts, to discuss and to consider alternative paths to success. And then they get to try again to achieve success on the next day where new challenges await.
Each day on a course is filled with opportunities to reflect on and practice ‘Servant leadership.’
Stepping out of the comfort zone
NWE creates learning opportunities for students by asking, encouraging and supporting them to step into the uncomfortable. Students practice getting comfortable in the uncomfortable. To recognize situations—and themselves in different situations—so that their self-awareness develops into a humble self-confidence. Importantly, as students discover their own insecurities and explore situations where their strengths or weaknesses are realized, they come to respect the insecurities or false boastfulness of others. Are you naturally assertive? Step back today, listen more. Do you often refrain from talking in group discussions? Maybe try to share your opinion during the morning discussion. Are you someone who loves to pound uphill leaving everyone in your dust? Try walking at the rear of the crew.
It sounds so simple and obvious. Be mindful. Consider others. Check your privileges or assumptions as you leave your tent. Act on behalf of your crew. But it is not simple. Learning to be mindful and respectful of others does not come naturally. Choosing to voice your own fears or insecurities to a group of peers does not come easy, to anyone. NWE creates opportunities for students to practice, speak up and to listen during new and often uncomfortable situations. And in these new situations, students discover that outside of their comfort zones is where learning and growth takes place.
Negi Wilderness Education remains committed to encouraging and inspiring students to develop as Servant leaders through expeditions of discovery. When students complete their NWE course and we see the smile on their dirty, exhausted and beaming with confidence face, we see them as Servant leaders and recognize their strength of character that will guide them for the rest of their lives.