The news in the United States and around the world is sobering. The world is in lock down. Central Park in New York is being turned into a field hospital. We cannot see the thing that is attacking us and our only remedy is to physically isolate ourselves from each other. Our economy is grinding to a halt and millions are now without a job and paycheck. The pandemic is like a major earthquake and the economic tsunami it has triggered is coming. It isn't a question of if it will happen, but how devastating the impact will be. More than anything else we need to prepare ourselves.
Outward Bound was born during another time of world strife--World War II. Designed as "the moral equivalent of war," founder Kurt Hahn was explicit in his intent. Tom James, noted scholar and former Dean and Provost of the Teacher's College at Columbia University, wrote this about Hahn:
Hahn was working from a disability greater than his own, a collective predicament verging on catastrophe. In England during the German Blitzkrieg, it was by no means apocalyptic to argue that there would need to be a new education, reconstructed on a massive scale, to produce the compassionate army needed to preserve what was left of civilization at home. Hahn believed that an intensive program of training, expedition, reflection, and service could make a difference.
Outward Bound has been building that compassionate army in the United States for 50 years and around the world for 70 years. There are millions of alumni who share a common value system of serving the greater good. I highlighted some of them in my recent book, Outward Bound Lessons To Live A Life of Leadership.
What is unspoken here is those who have trained that army. Outward Bound instructors are extraordinary people. We were mentored by masters and inculcated with a deeply held set of principles and sense of responsibility for others. Wrote Hahn,
"I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an indefatigable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion."
These are the qualities you need, right now, guiding your team. Here's why:
Enterprising Curiosity- Outward Bound instructors are by nature and training deeply curious. That quality is also a key characteristic in successful coaching, entrepreneurship and leadership. You need a guide-not to tell you where to go, but one who is willing to ask the right questions. That is a key strength of any trained Outward Bound leader.
Indefatigable Spirit- I love this one. Many in the Outward Bound community have taken to changing this quote to "undefeatable spirit." I choose not to, and here is why. Undefeatable is pretty one dimensional. It speaks to an outcome--to never be defeated is to be a winner. Hahn actually had no interest in victory as an outcome. He was interested in qualities and strengths of character. To be indefatigable is to be dogged, determined, persistent, single-minded, focused, unflagging, dynamic. These are the attributes that are needed right now, in every organization as we face such an uncertain future. You need a guide on your team who is indefatigable.
Tenacity In Pursuit- We face a marathon of uncertainty and challenge as a society. Outward Bound leaders are with their crews, through every challenge, every difficulty. We have experienced hardship as a daily routine and it has forged a strength and confidence that is rare to find. We know that, together we can accomplish anything. We have been there over and over again and have witnessed the strength of the human spirit to overcome adversity.
Readiness for Sensible Self Denial- As an Outward Bound instructor we learned and taught others to only carry what you need. Leading courses in the desert taught me to always have an extra bottle of water and to carefully manage my own water intake, so that I always had water for others. Outward Bound instructors eat last so that their groups are nourished. We have all felt hunger with our crews and yet had enough to not only survive but thrive in our togetherness. You need someone on your team to help you see that you are capable of doing without for the betterment of others. This skill is needed now.
Above all, Compassion- This is the single trait that separates Outward Bound leaders from all others. It sets us apart from the military, which certainly prepares its soldiers--for war. But this is a different kind of war. One that requires deep empathy for and understanding of people. One that needs a guide who knows that every one of us is way more capable than we realize. One that knows that we're all in this together, and that the highest form of leadership is through selfless service to and caring for others.
Former Outward Bound leaders are all around you. There are thousands of us. People like former US Senator and Congressman Mark Udall; former Sierra Club deputy director Maggie Fox; Laura Kohler, senior vice president of Human Resources, Stewardship & Sustainability for the Kohler Co.; Michael Welp and Bill Proudman founders of White Men as Full Diversity Partners; Peter Bailey, President of the Prouty Project; Luis Benitez, the first director for the office of the outdoor industry in Colorado. They are emergency room physician Suzanne Atkinson, Asheville high school principal Meg Turner, and Boulder firefighter and engineer David Garcia. We are your co-workers and neighbors. And we are trained to serve.
Right now we are fighting to defeat covid-19. We will also have to fight to save our economy and those around us who have lost and will lose their jobs and their homes. We will have to reinvent our businesses and non-profits. For most of us this will be the greatest challenge of our lifetimes.
If you want to learn more about how to bring the principles from Outward Bound, which I call Expeditionary Leadership, into your organization, sign up for information here.
If you think you could use some help or perspective, contact me at [email protected] and we can schedule a time to speak. I will support you in any way I can.
Do yourself and the world a favor. Hire a former Outward Bound instructor.
"Compassion is a verb." --Thich Nhat Hanh