Leaders Lessons from an Outward Bound Wilderness Instructor

Guest post from Mark Brown:
Leaders in the outdoor leadership space are
quite familiar with a wilderness ethic and organization called Leave No Trace.
Originally a program created by the United States Forest Service in the late
1980s, the organization offers guidelines to people who venture into the
wilderness to help reduce their negative impact and preserve it for future
generations. LNT has become the gold standard for organizations who operate in
America’s backcountry environments.
LNT is not a well-known philosophy beyond the
outdoor industry. But perhaps it should be. This argument was introduced by New
York Life CEO Ted Mathas,
while speaking at an event hosted by Outward Bound USA that honored New
York Life Foundation’s
work with grieving teens. Mathas, himself an
alumnus of Outward Bound’s wilderness programs, made the connection as he
discussed his journey to becoming an effective CEO. He highlighted the
importance of leaders putting their egos aside and “leaving no trace” by
respecting the culture that exists and supporting people rather than focusing
on their own agendas.
Mathas’ insights could be expanded to include
many of the seven principles listed by Leave No Trace:
  1. Plan
    Ahead and Prepare:
    Business leaders who know the
    environment in which they are leading can greatly minimize any negative
    impact, whether on the people they lead or the communities/environments in
    which they operate. Deliberate planning to minimize impact will ensure
    more positive outcomes. Too many leaders make either/or decisions
    regarding both human and environmental impacts, but this is a false choice
    that can be negated with proper planning and preparation.
  2. Dispose
    of Waste Properly:
    Waste disposal builds upon
    planning and preparation. LNT philosophy requires nothing be left behind
    that would negatively impact the environment. Business, particularly
    manufacturing has embraced the Japanese concepts of Muda and Kaizen,
    which have been widely adapted across industries as Lean. Muda is
    waste and Kaizen is the process of reducing that waste made most
    famous by Toyota’s Production System. Mathas actually takes this even
    further in his presentation, connecting this concept well with what is
    known as the “8th waste”—that of unused human creativity. An effective
    leader is one who taps that potential.
  3. Leave
    What You Find:
    Mathas honed in on this as an
    important aspect he paid attention to when he became a new CEO. New York
    Life has existed for 175 years. It has a rich history and culture, and as
    a new leader he recognized that his most important leadership was to
    preserve the good that was there as he guided the organization forward.
    Even struggling organizations have good things about them, and good people
    within who may be hunkered down waiting for better leadership. LNT advises
    us to see what is there and to preserve it for future generations.
  4. Be
    Considerate of Others:
    The wilderness holds a
    special place for those who travel into it. LNT asks that travelers
    respect not only the place, but the experience as well. Trail etiquette and
    minimizing noise to respect others are large parts of this principle. In a
    business setting, this principle has huge implications for the role an
    organization plays in its community and the world. The
    Conscious Capitalism
    movement has a tenet it calls a “stakeholder
    orientation.” This tenet reflects the importance of consideration to
    everyone who has engagement with the organization, from customers to
    vendors and the community in which it operates. Following this principle
    elevates the place of corporations in the lives of people.
All of our institutions are currently under
tremendous strain. Rapid change and technological advances are only going to
accelerate. Corporate leaders would do well to follow the words of Mathas and
look to organizations that have been advising leaders about how to navigate the
wilderness, where leaders have been successfully and safely guiding into the
About Mark Brown:
Mark Brown is the author
Outward Bound Lessons to Live
a Life of Leadership: To Serve, to Strive, and Not To Yield
a native of Northeastern Ohio, Mark moved to Naples, Florida where he
worked as a writer and magazine editor. At the age of 25, he decided to attend
a 23-day trip to an Outward Bound course in Utah. After taking a temporary job
as a van driver for Outward Bound in Minnesota, he helped successfully search
for and rescue a teenage boy that had become separated from the group. After
this, Outward Bound asked him to become an instructor which began a 22-year
working relationship with the organization. He accrued over 1,000 days in the
wilderness as an instructor. He earned a master’s degree in
business/entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University and has since served
as a transformational leadership consultant in a variety of industries.