When you think of 21st century leaders, what characteristics come to mind? Organization perhaps? Maybe persistence. Quite possibly you think of dedication, ethics, or effective communications. There are many possibilities.
Whether a person is destined for leadership greatness on a political stage or wants to be better at helping others, leadership skills learned through interactions with the natural world translate well to the classroom, boardroom, and beyond. Child development expert Scott D. Krenz in the article “5 Steps to Helping Your Child Become a Leader” sums up the key leadership concepts in bold below. The connection to outside activities in this list is my addition to Krenz’s thoughts:
- A “Leader” says “Yes, I Can!”It’s called the power of Positive Attitude. —> Anyone on a sports team knows the value of a positive attitude. My sons play soccer and will start practice for the season this week (let’s hope it stops snowing!). Neither are star players, but we reinforce that what makes them good members of the team is their attitudes, their support and empathy for other members of their team and the opposition, and their ability to listen to the coach (and execute instructions). Playing soccer teaches my kids that losing is a reality of playing the game, but that there are improvements they can make to do better the next time around. Leaders understand that a good attitude makes for a winning team—no matter the score.
- A “Leader” says “It’s not a problem, it’s a Challenge!” It’s called Overcoming Adversity. —> As I’ve written about on this blog previously, my family does a lot of camping in the summer. One goal of mine for this season is to involve my oldest son in the trip planning more. What better opportunity is there for someone to learn about problems like budget, activities, and planning than to get involved? Further, when something goes wrong (as it inevitably does), this is an opportunity to learn how to be flexible and to seek solutions quickly. Even when things are well planned, the unexpected happens. These aren’t disasters; leaders take these opportunities and make the situation better.
- A “Leader” says “Never give up, never give up, never give up!” It’s called Perseverance. —> Anyone who’s ever started a backyard garden understands that things don’t always go as planned. When we moved to a new house a few years ago, I got my family together one Saturday, and we rolled out fencing, tilled soil, and planted an array of tiny plants. The problem, I learned as summer wore on, was that the giant oak trees in our yard quickly filled the sky with their leaves, blocking sunlight from reaching my little plants. My garden was a spectacular disaster. I wasn’t daunted, though, and tried again the next year, being more careful to plant in areas where the sun might reach through the leaves. I’d like to say things were lots better, but my harvest wasn’t anything to brag about. This year, I’ve got a new plan—and a new location for the garden. Will I have better results? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try until I succeed. That’s perseverance, an important leadership skill.
- A “Leader” says “I may fail or make mistakes BUT I always learn and move ahead!” It’s called Commitment. —> My parents love to take my children fishing. My children, however, aren’t so good at the patience it often takes to catch fish. They expect the fish to bite the hook as soon as it’s dropped into the water. They don’t understand why the fish sometimes don’t bite at all—or bite and aren’t hooked. My soon-to-be eight-year-old son told me recently that he’s looking forward to fishing with Grandpa and Grandma this summer. He said he’s not going to cry if a fish steals the worm from his hook or if he has to sit quietly for a long time. He’s committed to doing what it takes to catch a fish. He’s learning how to be a good leader in the process.
- A “Leader” says “I will always do my best!” It’s called Excellence. —> When my husband was a graduate student, he hiked in the Everest region. He tells the story of climbing to the summit of a mountain (much smaller than Everest but still pretty major in terms of elevation); many in his party gave up and turned back. Back at their base camp, those people were upset they didn’t reach the summit. The reality of the situation, though, was that they did their best; they hiked as far as they could and made a decision to turn back before they endangered themselves—or someone else who would have had to rescue them. A leader does his/her best in the situation—but doesn’t do so at the expense of others.
If you can’t tell already, I’m firmly in the camp who disagrees with the popular statement “Leaders are born, not made.” It has been my experience that while not everyone is born with strong leadership skills, they can be strengthened. Experiences in nature are a great way to grow those skills. What leadership skills have you gained from spending time outdoors?