“Life is a great adventure or nothing!” Helen Keller.
Leadership is an adventure!
planning an adventure to a new area of the globe I choose my
expedition leaders and my team with a great deal of care and
precision, for if I don’t my clients and I may not come back. I
seek the best and I seek those whom I trust – with my life!
has led me to work with some of the most trusted and capable leaders
in the world. It has been the same in my professional life as a
business person, coach and educator too.
the weather – markets, regulations, technology, customer expectations
and products for example, are always changing. Like vast areas of the
rain forest – sales territories are frequently unexplored. Like
expedition teams – the teams we come to rely upon are ever more
varied, geographically dispersed, transactional or piecemeal in
survive and thrive in such conditions, we need a leader who can see
us through such challenges and leverage the opportunities I call
these, “really wild” leaders.
what do they look like?
the paragraphs below, I introduce ten characteristics that I deem to
be some of the traits of a really wild leader – that is a leader whom
you would trust to take you into the most challenging of
environments, situations or circumstances, whom you would actively
follow despite the odds.
traits of a really wild leader:
and dare to venture
a clear direction and keep track of progress`
connect and engage
people and the world about you
and remain humble
consistent but willing to change
Inspire and dare to venture
wild leaders are not afraid to try new things or explore new lands.
They recognise that staying put, whilst sometimes an essential
short-term survival technique, is rarely a long-term strategy. Their
minds are continually looking to new horizons and evaluating what
might come next whilst protecting what is important now. They
confidently inspire and rally their people and resources to act with
sense of purpose and urgency that can get even the most incredible
Elon Musk and his decision to make humans an interplanetary species.
He determined that the existence of the human race is by no means
guaranteed if we remain solely on our present celestial island. He
developed this into a vision that motivated him and inspired others.
He dared to risk his incredible personal wealth to challenge the
status quo that rocket travel was too expensive and changed the
nature of space travel forever. His staff follow him and his dream.
They are not commanded to do so.
do you inspire others? Why do they follow you? Where do you wish to
Set a clear direction and keep a track of progress
leading others in the mountains a mountain leader will be very
precise in setting their goal and direction. They will also check and
take regular bearings to know exactly where they are or use other
navigational features to keep them on track. They will regularly
appraise their teams of progress and let them know as accurately as
they can what they can expect and when whilst on their journey. Their
journey may not be straight, but they will always know where they are
relative to their destination.
of my colleagues, who was recently awarded an MBE by the queen for
his services to leadership development and survival training in the
RAF, and who is also an International Mountain Leader, recently told
me of an occasion when after hours and several kilometres of
mountaineering he arrived just a few metres from his planned
destination. I was really impressed until he stopped me in my tracks
and told me that he had failed. He was on assessment in the fog. Had
he arrived just a few metres in another direction he may have stepped
over a precipice which would have led to certain death.
wild leaders set a clear direction and go to great lengths to make
sure they and their entire team know where they are on their journey
ad what lies ahead.
you asked each member of your team where your organisation is going
and what progress had been made, how similarly would they reply?
any leader to reach their full potential they must first be trusted.
If not, their teams and the people they influence will not ever fully
support them. Trust is earned by setting out your stall and honouring
it, by being consistent with your behaviour, making the right choices
and managing expectations.
well as developing one’s personal trust, a really wild leader will
build and foster trust between each member of their team, internal,
external, physically present and remote.
the finest example of trust is the trust Scott of the Antarctic
earned from his team. As a leader he left them on a remote peninsula
in Antarctica whilst he navigated and traversed against all odds with
the promise that he would return to save them. They waited for many
months and followed his instructions to the letter certain in the
knowledge that he would return, which of course he did. Imagine what
you could achieve with your teams if you were trusted to such a
behaviours might you further develop to increase your own trust or
that across your organisation?
was recently running a leadership programme for a number of
government ministers, CEO’s and other executives of banks and the
subject was, “authentic leadership in a competitive world”.
his wonderful book, Discover Your True North, Bill George recommended
that leaders find their sweet spot and be true to themselves by
creating working environments that enable them and their teams to
operate according to the values and principles they hold dear.
of my clients explained that in reality this is not always easy,
particularly when the environment in which you work is incredibly
complex and the impact of your right choices might lead to outcomes
for some that you would rather avoid. Doing the right thing can often
concluded that a really wild leader will always do his or her best to
live according to their principles and values, to change their
working environment where and when they can on their path towards
ever closer alignment. Where they definitely cannot make a
difference, they will have the courage to move to a place in which
you living and leading according to the principles and values you
hold dear? If you feel light and unburdened by your choices, you
probably are. If there is a nagging or knot in your stomach – what
will you choose to change?
Communicate with excellence
world war two there was a poster that stated, “careless words cost
lives!”. I would add to this, “and actions too”.
allowing someone on expedition, I run an exercise to develop and
assess each candidate’s ability to communicate with clarity,
empathy and encouragement. I also evaluate their behaviours
throughout each selection process. If I don’t, and then allow them
to join a trip to the Arctic for example, I run the risk that lives
may be lost or clients not served well.
have noted throughout my career that the more senior a person becomes
the impact of their words reaches a point when it is amplified
exponentially. What may have at one point been acceptable to share
out loud, may in fact now result in consequences far beyond
expectations. For better or worse, a word from some people can change
the entire performance of the global stock markets for instance.
Consider Warren Buffet or various comments made by our friend Elon
Musk! In just one tweet about taking his company Tesla private, Elon
in August added 7% to the value of the company’s stock. It rose so
fast the SEC suspended trading.
the power of a leader’s words can be so strong, then what of their
actions? When observing leaders at work, I notice that people are far
more likely to model what someone does than what they say.
how to communicate?
any indigenous peoples, really wild leaders seek to be fully in tune
with their environment. It can change at any time, as can any
situation or circumstance within it. They use each of their senses to
determine exactly what is going on. This involves listening and
observing well and picking up on even the most nuanced of signs, then
deciding to communicate and act accordingly i.e. by choosing the
right means for the right audience at the right time, in the right
tone – demonstrating clarity, empathy (understanding) and
competitive world in which we operate can be dangerous and gruelling
at times. Leaders will need to navigate their teams and stakeholders
through some pretty tough times. By carefully choosing their words
and demonstrating best actions, they will be far more likely to
do you communicate with the range of your stakeholders? What do
people hear you say? What do they see you doing? And what are the
Personally, connect and engage
wild leaders do not sit in their ivory towers. They lead from the
front or work side by side in close proximity to their teams. Whilst
modern leaders develop and use good reporting systems to provide the
necessary insights to performance (of their teams, schools,
government departments, companies or competitors for example), they
also understand that without personally connecting and engaging with
their stakeholders and the wider environment too, they will lose
incredibly valuable context.
will impact the quality and timeliness of their decisions and the
opportunity to inspire and motivate their teams. Ultimately this will
also impact the degree to which people will choose to follow and
support them in their objectives.
most wonderful examples of engagement are seen in schools where busy
head teachers fully engage in the activities of their schools, when
they take time to greet pupils and parents, to take a turn on
playground duty and to make time to teach alongside their staff. I
have observed that these leaders run happy schools, meet the needs of
their very disparate cohorts who then go on to achieve in the most
amazing ways. I have seen the opposite too where the life of the
leader is filled only by spreadsheets, analyses and directives. Here,
staff turnover, customer satisfaction and results will rarely
frequently meet strong business leaders too who have enjoyed the most
incredible support of their staff who have gone far beyond what is
required of their roles or their official working hours. They have
sought to get something done, not because they had to but because
they wanted to. This would not have happened without a close
connection and engagement by their leader.
you take time to personally connect and engage? If not, what can you
change so you can?
Love people and the world about you
your business genuinely improves people’s lives success will
instinctively know whether someone actually cares for them. When they
know their leader cares, they will often reciprocate with the most
wonderful commitment and loyalty! This applies equally to staff,
suppliers, partners, customers, pupils, parents and shareholders too.
is by no mistake that the most senior executives who lead the
happiest and most loyal of teams, show a genuine love for their
people and the world. They appreciate the need to achieve short term
targets to survive, but also value creating a long-term, healthy,
happy and sustainable environment and results with which to thrive.
really wild leader will take the time to notice the apparently little
things knowing they could sometimes have a huge impact on the people
or world around them. They then find ways to make a difference.
could be by looking after a particular individual. It could be on a
grander scale as they seek to develop a giving or environmental
strategy way beyond the minimum requirements considered acceptable
for corporate and social responsibility (CSR) purposes. It could also
be putting standards and systems in place to safeguard and encourage
the physical and mental wellbeing of staff and their families.
on a desert island a few years ago, my business partner noticed that
a member of his team looked a little pale and clammy. He chose to
enquire after her wellbeing rather than continue about his tasks for
the day and realised very quickly that she had cut herself two days
earlier and not told anyone about it. Had her injury gone unchecked
for just another 24 hours she would have likely died from sepsis. He
was able to intervene and save her life.
a leader, what are you doing to demonstrate love for the people and
world around you? Are you paying sufficient attention? What effect do
you have directly or indirectly on peoples’ lives, their state of
mental and physical wellbeing? Consider the environment you are
creating and the natural world about you too!
Serve and remain humble
wild leaders encourage their teams to continually look out for one
another, to find and act on opportunities to help. They do this most
effectively by being seen to serve others themselves.
was delighted to see this in action during an open day at a
prestigious grammar school in the south east of England. Whilst
hosting an important day for parents and teachers, the head master
took time to clean up the mess from an over filled and knocked-over
bin himself rather than instructing his students to do it. In this
way they saw that he was serving them and that even he, in the most
senior of positions, was not above doing even the most menial of
tasks. Now isn’t hat somebody you would be happy to follow?
leader’s job is to set the direction and serve their team by
creating the environment and securing the resources necessary for
them to succeed.
acts of service do you fulfil on a daily basis, to individuals close
to you and for the organisation and extended community as a whole?
making key decisions, the role of a leader can be a lonely one. Most
decisions will be received differently by different audiences with
criticism or attack sometimes coming more fervently than those of
agreement or praise.
have seen that a leader’s values and principles may also sometimes
be tested, and we instinctively know the physical, mental and
personal strains one can face.
comes from looking after yourself, remaining authentic and by
building and staying connected to the right support team of
confidantes, loved ones and advisors around you. They care about you,
believe in you and are confident enough to challenge you.
wild leaders are honest with themselves and take care of their
physical and mental health.
recognise their weaknesses as well as their strengths. They are not
afraid to recognise when things are not going well or when they are
ill, anxious or tired.
are trained to share this information with their support group
whenever such situations arise, and to than act upon the advice they
are given. Failure to do so would be a disservice to themselves and
neglection of their duty of care to others. You can’t have a
mountain leader ignore their possible exposure to altitude sickness,
nor an Arctic leader a frost-bitten foot. The results would be
disastrous. The same principles apply to leaders in commerce and
team do you have in place to support you in times of need? Who can
help you with the difficult choices you make? What can you do to
improve your own physical and mental health?
Be consistent but willing to change
feel secure when their leaders are consistent in their behaviours.
really wild leader is consistent in their actions but flexible in the
path they choose to take, for the path they choose to take must
change based upon results and changes in environment around them.
is my belief that whatever the direction a leader chooses to take
their organisation, they can rest assured if they follow the traits
above, their chances of success will be high.
is a great adventure and the adventure of leadership is indeed a
rewarding one. For a really wild leader, it is incredible!
How do you measure up on the ten points above and where could you improve?
B. (2008). Discover
your True North.
John Wiley & Sons.
The above chapter was
published in Fit For Purpose Leadership #4 by Writing Matters (2018).
It may be purchased here: