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Thread: Leadership

  1. #1
    Senior Member Neil's Avatar
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    Leadership

    I've been doing stuff in the great outdoors in a variety of settings for a long, long time and have never, ever utilised "leadership skills". Then, just the other day, I was in an outdoors store looking for books about trees when I saw "Outdoor Leadership" on a cover so I bought it.

    Then I read it.

    Hence this post.

    The book, which was published by the Mountaineers focusses on formal leadership settings where it is crystal clear who is the leader and who is not.

    Interesting stuff, plenty of food for thought.

    However, in reading the book I realized that times have changed, at least in VFTT-land where group trips that come together over the internet don't have a formal leader who supposedly has proved him or herself to some higher authority.

    So far, all of my ADK trips have been with folks who would have been comfortable doing the hike solo and as a result leadership skills have never come into play.

    What I'm wondering about are the trips that are organized over the net. Who's the leader? Does there need to be one? If the need arises, will one of the participants rise to the occasion? Will the others subordinate themselves to him or her? Obviously, every group's dynamics and collective abilities in conjunction with the difficulty of the route and the prevailing conditions will color the answer to the question.

  2. #2
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
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    Good thread, Neil. With the friendships I've made thru VFTT and ADKHighPeaks, it hasn't been an issue so far. Mutual respect, mutual goodwill, and lots of experience has made it moot.
    In the years as a trip leader for an outing club, though, a completely different matter. Thru the sign up process, you interview and question participants. They USUALLY understand who's running the trip. You can get a sense of who will be a maverick, though, and its necessary to explain the parameters of the trip when they sign up, and again at the trailhead. Set a lead hiker and a sweep and tell the group ahead of time under what conditions the peak gets climbed, turnaround times, and the leader's discretion as to whether any additional objectives canbe done. As a club trip leader, you owe a safety and fun obligation to the entire group, and sometimes it requires stepping on some toes. It that setting, I've hesitated to step up and make the call on what the group does.

    PB

  3. #3
    Member porky's Avatar
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    Neil has raised some interesting issues. I myself am most concerned about the potential legal liability assumed by someone posting a public invitation to a hike. It seems to me that once you do that you become the de facto leader of the hike. If anyone is lost, injured or killed on the hike, are you then legally responsible? Most hiking clubs carry hefty liability insurance and insist on much signed paperwork before anyone joins a hike. I'm sure this is not just because they like to pay fees and collect signatures. Perhaps an attorney could chime in on this?

    porky pine

  4. #4
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    Like PB, for many years I've been associated as a trip leader for a mountain club, and then began to change that commitment so that "formal" trip leading was done during the winter hiking school, a 2 month committment under the auspices of the club, and then 'arranged' hikes informally thru the winter as a group of like-minded people. Most of the time when I hike in the East many of my friends are either trip leaders or highly-experienced hikers, and when decisions/leadership skills are needed, we create a concensus, drawing upon each other's strengths. I've never felt that by arranging hikes I've incurred any kind of legal obligations (to address Porky's concerns) but that might be naivete' on my part.

    If I don't know the people I'm hiking with, unless the hike is under the auspices of a mountain club or a professional guide service, I'd most likely do the hike solo.

    As an avid student of human nature, particularly in group dynamics, I've been taught there's always a leader(s) in a group, implicit or explicit. That leader(s) will emerge in an informal group if an emergency arises. That person(s) may not be the most competent one to take charge of the situation, but that's another topic.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Nessmuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by porky
    Neil has raised some interesting issues. I myself am most concerned about the potential legal liability assumed by someone posting a public invitation to a hike. It seems to me that once you do that you become the de facto leader of the hike. If anyone is lost, injured or killed on the hike, are you then legally responsible? Most hiking clubs carry hefty liability insurance and insist on much signed paperwork before anyone joins a hike. I'm sure this is not just because they like to pay fees and collect signatures. Perhaps an attorney could chime in on this?

    porky pine
    This is very true. Any trip announced through the ADK requires all participants to sign a release form, with one person appointed as the leader. The release doesn't necessarily mean much if there is a major problem.

    If you lead a trip for compensation, then in many (all?) states you must have a state issued guide's license, which requires minimum standards of knowledge and certification. Nothing can prevent a client from sueing for the most trivial of matters, and any guide leading clients without having liability insurance is open to serious trouble. When guiding for pay there is direct and implied acceptance of performance and responsibility. Against a determined malcontent, I suspect there is little difference for someone organizing a trip as defacto leader, whether they accept payment or not.

    Leadership amongst otherwise qualified peers is as much an exercise in "followership" in difficult situations when it is necessary for a leader to emerge. I am familiar with a course that trains college age people how to lead outdoor trips as a summer job. They are evaluated in small groups over several days in the field, each group member in turn role playing leader-of-the-day while the others are followers. It is always extremely difficult for the followers to stay in their role when the designated leader is "leading" through various difficult scenarios thrown at them. When the situation is not so demanding, the tendency for peers is to all try to pitch in together and the active leadership role assumes a lower level.

    With greater age and experience level differences, active leadership is more recognized and accepted, even in non-stressing situations.

    The Mountaineers leadership book is good for setting the stage and defining outdoor leadership concepts. Rick Curtis from Princeton is also big in this area. None of these books are very complete without interacting through field experiences. If you find the need to train as well as to lead, my favorite book is The Backcountry Classroom: Lesson plans for teaching in the wild outdoors by B.F. Bonney & J.K. Drury from The Wilderness Education Association, Saranac Lake, New York.
    Last edited by Nessmuk; 03-06-2006 at 08:45 AM.
    "She's all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night." - Nessmuk, Forest and Stream, July 21, 1880 [of the Wood Drake Canoe built for him by Rushton]

  6. #6
    Senior Member spaddock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by porky
    concerned about the potential legal liability assumed by someone posting a public invitation to a hike. It seems to me that once you do that you become the de facto leader of the hike.
    I think of people who post upcoming trips more as organizers than leaders. Many newbie hikers post trips to meet new hiking partners, I'll hike with anybody, but would feel uncomfortable taking lead from them. Outside of winter, in the East I'd do just about any hike solo and don't expect somebody to be my leader when I show up.

    Maybe I'm naive as well, but I wouldn't legally blame a VFTT'er, or internet leader or whoever if I got injured on a hike that they organized. I also wouldn't expect somebody to blame me if they got injured on a hike I organized. When a route is suggested all I usually like to know is (aside from what are the peaks I get to check off) distance and mileage. I rarely read the guidebooks to get every last detail of the trail, I like to be surprised.

    I agree with Kevin that a natural leader will probably arise as the hike goes on. You'll get a feel for who you'll turn to when a problem arises.


    -Shayne

  7. #7
    Senior Member Mad Townie's Avatar
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    OK, none of this is legal advice, right? You want legal advice, you come to my office and pay for it. I don't want anyone suing me for malpractice if anything I said turned out not to be quite correct, nor do I want to get disciplined for practicing law where I'm not licensed.

    I suppose to be legally safest, we could all have all our companions on any hike sign a waiver/release form that says not only will no one sue me for anything that happens, but if I do get sued, you will all pay for my legal defense and any damages I might have to pay (indemnity clause). After all, if I fall asleep at the wheel on a return trip from a hike and end up hurting my passengers, I'd be legally liable to them, right? (unless my waiver includes that part of the trip.) Remember that anyone can sue anyone for anything--proving negligence and the fact that harm was caused by it is quite another thing.

    OR, we can try to act like reasonable human beings, take a little risk and self-responsibility now and then, ignore all that stuff and have a good time.

    Personally, I prefer the latter!

    [P.S. My avatar is me after MEB made me fall, or at least that's what I claim. Did I get hurt? Should I sue her? Maybe we should do a poll! ]
    Mad Townie

    Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary. - H. D. Thoreau

    Easy trails, nice days and comfort are good, too. - M. Townie

  8. #8
    Senior Member Neil's Avatar
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    Actually, the legal aspect never crossed my mind. If someone who I had arranged to hike with over the net offerred me a waiver to sign at the TH I'd sure as hell wonder...

    In all probability my question is an academic one, especially if one chooses one's partners wisely. The only time I ever used anything remotely resembling leadership skills (more like basic human decency and caring) was when people just showed up for hikes that were posted as come one, come all.

  9. #9
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
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    I generally agree with Nessmuck with one exception: "The release doesn't necessarily mean much if there is a major problem."

    A lot of research went into the design of the exculpatory release that the ADK uses. It is the club's assessment that in the event of an injury, the release would hold up in NYS.

    As to informal trips, unless a fee is being charged, or someone does something egregiously negligent, the liklihood of a successful suit is very small. I always advise people to carry high liability limits on the homeowners or renters insurance. For a few more dollars a year, you can have $1M of liability insurance that would cover you in almost any eventuality, either on the trail or elsewhere.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Rick's Avatar
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    I seem to remember this very topic coming up back around 2000 or 2001,before the first crash (I think there were 2, but I cannot recall).
    As with Peakbagr and a few others, I've led organized backpacking trips for several outdoors clubs as well as assisting on trips for a commercial outfitter.

    As for club trips, I have always found that tripleaders do a great job of weeding out troublesome individuals, as word of mouth spreads quickly if someone is problematic (troublesome, overestimating capabilities, ill-prepared, non-group focused, etc.) with the worst of the characters ending up on the "waiting lists" of future trips

    I have always liked the release forms that the ADK and the AMC use, but I have always tried to be diligent via phone screening those wishing to sign up. I take things one step further when leading beginner trips and have pre-trip meetings.

    The most important leadership characteristic I try to do is to find out who is expert at what. While I try to have knowledge, I don't have to be an expert in all areas, but I do have to be able to engage others if a situation arises. I then try to sit back and let the dynamics work themselves out.

    The trips that I avoid leading are the Show & Go's, where you cannot pre-screen, since folks just show up at the trailhead for dayhikes. I think group dynamics are a bit more difficult in these situations, since the trips - perhaps dayhikes are usually a bit shorter and don't really allow each indivual enough time to assess other's capabilities.
    Rick

  11. #11
    Senior Member Zer0-G's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Rooney
    As an avid student of human nature, particularly in group dynamics, I've been taught there's always a leader(s) in a group, implicit or explicit. That leader(s) will emerge in an informal group if an emergency arises. That person(s) may not be the most competent one to take charge of the situation, but that's another topic.
    Great Topic. Having lead trips formally in a club setting and informally outside of the club setting there are distinctions between the two.
    I believe the original question was hinting towards the latter. Legal issues aside, considering the group dynamic the quote above made me think.

    I do believe what you assert above is absolutely true and here are my thoughts on the subject in general.

    In the informal setting, if I arrange the trip, I lead the trip. I make it known and act as being the leader and decision maker. The reasons being, a) I have my personal goals and objectives and b) if there is an emergency, or critical decisions to be made, I take the responsibility to to handle the emergency and make the decisions. As a leader, I assess the talents and skills of the people I am walking with in order to delegate responsibilities should the need arise.
    For example, who is a good navigator, who is fast on the trail, physical conditioning, recent injuries. Who is familiar with the area and terrain. Who has a medical or WFA background etc. All this is assessed through casual conversation. This process will usually indicate a good co-leader who can serve to back me up and to consult with if the need arises.

    Sometimes, it turns out that I enjoy another individuals leadership skills and I take a back seat and co-lead. Whatever happens it is and needs to be apparent to the group so that comfort and confidence is high. I like to lead, but I certainly don't have to lead or co-lead to have a good time.

    I truly believe, hoping that a leader will rise up should an emergency arise is risky. What if there are two or three people who rise up, who follows who? Will it end up dividing the group when you really need to use the resources of the whole group for a successful outcome? What if no one steps up to lead?

    If there are individuals that do not feel comfortable with the arrangement I propose, I know I can't control that. But, when the shit hits the fan, you want to deal with as little contention as possible especially when someone's well being or life is at stake.

    If there is a uncooperative individual on the trip, I don't beat around the bush. As constructively as possible I let them know where I am at and what my expectations are to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the group (and myself). They can then make their own decisions outside of the group if they choose to do so.

    90 percent of the time this is a very natural process and does not play out anywhere near as extreme as I am portraying it here. It can be a very subtle and enjoyable process. I don't even think most people know the process is unfolding. (I am, fortunately or unfortunately, in the initial stages of the outing very aware of the process)

    Most of us like to believe we can handle things in the outdoors. Most of us can handle many challenging situations when going solo and in a group setting. However, shit happens every so often. I like being prepared.

    Basically, most poeple I have been fortunate enough to share the trail with are enthusiastic, intelligent, considerate and care about the well being of the people they are sharing the trail with. Which translates into this very rarely being an issue. And still...
    "As I was walking - I saw a sign there
    And the sign read - No tresspassin'
    But on the other side - it didn't say nuthin'
    Now that side was made for you and me!"
    - Woody Guthrie -

  12. #12
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    Another great read......

    is Outdoor Leadership by John Graham - you can order it on amazon or through a local bookstore.

    I tend to run more conservatively like zero-g just described but it also depends on which mountain. A quick trip up Monadnock with one friend is different than the glaciers on Mt. Baker - which I went up with friends but we all decided to spell out our expectations, strengths etc ahead of time in a hotel room. Don't get me wrong, things can (and have) gone wrong on Monadnock - the risk management is just a bit different at 3100 ft vs 10,700 ft.

    Even if you have a lot of experience Graham's quick and humorous read will resonate. He has since founded The Giraffe Project in Seattle - an organization recognizing and encouraging people to stick their neck on in the name of what is right and good - true leadership.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Rick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonatha
    is Outdoor Leadership by John Graham - you can order it on amazon or through a local bookstore.
    John Graham?? To heck with that!! My Prequisite Trip Participant Required Reading is Roberts Rules of Order!!!! Sets them all straight even before we leave the parking lot!!!!

    OK, OK, I hope everyone knows I am joking....
    Rick

  14. #14
    Senior Member Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Rooney
    As an avid student of human nature, particularly in group dynamics, I've been taught there's always a leader(s) in a group, implicit or explicit. That leader(s) will emerge in an informal group if an emergency arises. That person(s) may not be the most competent one to take charge of the situation, but that's another topic.
    On the topic of leadership, especially considering internet based ad hoc trips the above above quote should be considered very important knowledge for all hikers.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Bob Kittredge's Avatar
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    I think the assumption is that we're all experienced hikers who are capable of hiking our own hikes. A hike proposed on VFTT may have an instigator/organizer, but rarely a formal leader. Anyone who comes along should be prepared to make his own decisions about how fast to go, which route to take, and when to turn back. We join such a hike because we'd like some companionship and (maybe) a few more people around in case we do have an accident.

    Anyone who is not yet confident of his own abilities, should join a formal club such as the AMC which offers organized hikes with trained leaders who commit to seeing that everyone makes it out of the woods safely.

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