Leadership Concepts (Rick Curtis)

Part of The Backpacker’s Field Manual by Rick Curtis (first edition published by Random House March, 1998)

  • Situational Leadership – the idea that there is one most effective leadership style for a person or a group based on the situation. It is based on a bell curve set on a X-Y axis of relationship and task behaviours and the maturity of the participants regarding the task.
  • Teachable Moment – finding an opportunity to introduce some new knowledge or experience that “fits” with what is occurring.
  • Leader’s Radar – sensing how individual participants and the group as a whole are doing both physically and emotionally. Using this assessment to decide appropriate leadership strategies.
  •  Thaw-Shift-Refreeze – the basic model of how we change our behaviour. Often it is a challenge or disequilibrium that initiates the Thaw and a supportive environment is usually required to help Refreeze the new behaviour.
  • Challenge – challenge is often a fundamental part of the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze Cycle. A challenge occurs when there is a goal and an obstacle to overcome to reach the goal. The goal can be internal or external and the obstacle can be internal or external. If the participant attributes the locus (internal vs. external) of either the goal or obstacle incorrectly, it may lead to frustration. The person may need help seeing the situation more clearly. Remember that each person will have different things which challenge them and will experience a challenge in different ways.
  • The Edge – the point at which we make the shift to the new behaviour in the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze cycle is known as the edge. We are at the edge of our know behaviour moving into new and possibly unknown territory. This can be a period of great stress for the person both physically and emotionally (which can have safety implications in some activities). It may be necessary to do some debriefing and processing with the person right then and there.
  • Debriefing – a process that encourages both personal reflection and self-disclosure. It is accomplished in various ways and is an essential part of Transference.
  • Safe Environment – creating a “safe” emotional environment so that participants can fell comfortable telling the group if they are having problems.
  • Task/Relationship Roles – leadership can be broken down into specific types of behaviours. Task behaviours are aimed at moving the group in the direction of completing a task. Relationship behaviours are aimed at fostering effective group interaction. Leaders may have strengths in one or both areas and should strive to improve their behavioural repertoire to include both. As the trip progresses, the participants may take on more of these roles as indicated by the Situational Leadership Model.
  • Challenge by Choice – an essential aspect of challenge is that the individual should not be forced or coerced into it. In some situations (e.g. bad weather) there is nothing we can do. But in situations where activities are voluntary people must feel the have the right to say no and not feel a loss of self-worth. This is part of creating a Safe Environment.
  • Setting the Tone – recognizing that the opening stages of any group are very pliable for establishing group norms. This is the time to introduce and model appropriate types of behaviour. It is also the time to correct behaviours which are inappropriate before they become established norms.
  • Body Language – make sure that when you are talking or listening to someone that your body language shows that you are actively paying attention to them. You should be facing them, attentive, looking at their face (not down to the ground), and giving other signs like nods to show that you are focused on what they have to say. When its your turn to talk, your posture should be the same, your are focusing your message to that person. Looking away, etc. suggested that you don’t think that talking with them is important or suggests that you are nervous or are not being honest. Body language is especially important in high stress situations and emergencies. Part of the way you take control of the situation is through your body language and physical presence. Be firm, direct, look people in the eye, speak directly to them and address them by name giving specific instructions for what they are to do.
  • Assessment – the process of using Leader’s Radar to assess the current state of participants and the group and apply the Situational Leadership Model to determining the most effective leadership behavior for that situation.
  • Leaders as Role Models – leaders are carefully watched for signs of behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate.
  • Facilitator – one of the leader’s primary goals is to facilitate effective group interaction and encourage personal growth.
  • Honesty – it is imperative that you are honest with the group at all times. There should be no hidden agendas.
  • Your Disability is your Opportunity – the notion that in some situations it is useful to try to turn a problem into a positive situation.
  • Success and Failure are not Absolutes – the idea that not achieving your stated goal is still success. If you aim to get from A-Z and get to M you have still traveled a great distance. If someone is having difficulty, you may need to help them see this.
  •  I Language – owning your feelings rather than placing the responsibility for them on others by saying “I feel __________ when you _________.”
  • Gender Inclusive Language – since language can have extremely subtle effects on individuals it is important to model this behaviour. It will make some more comfortable and may challenge others leading to a positive Thaw-Shift-Refreeze.
  • Respect for Others – this is an inherent value for OA, a form of minimal impact in working with people. This means that we have to create an environment where everyone is respected. You don’t have to agree with the person, but you need to respect them.
  • Accept the Person but Not the Behaviour – the idea that if someone is exhibiting problematic behaviour that you should focus on the behaviour and still communicate your interest and caring for the person.
  • Refocus – some people in seeking reasons for why things happen some people tend to be internal attributers (assume it is something they did or didn’t do) and some people are external attributers (assuming it is caused by something outside themselves). Neither is always true and often it is a combination. If someone is having difficulty, try to determine how they are making their attribution, and if it is, in fact, an appropriate assessment of the situation.
  • Transference – the process of transferring the new knowledge learned from the trip back to daily life and incorporating it there. Debriefing is essential to successful transference.
  • Recipes, basic ingredients, chefs and cooking styles – a metaphor for leadership in which the leaders are chefs. Each may have their own recipes but there are certain fundamental cooking skills which must be mastered by all.
  • Compensating Behaviour– the notion that the initial interpretation for why someone is behaving a certain way may be incorrect. There may be another issue and the person’s behaviour is an attempt to compensate for a situation they find uncomfortable.
  •  Anxiety Meter – a method of checking to see how stressed people are feeling.
  •  Space Tolerance – the idea that each leader tolerates a certain “response space” between when s/he asks for something to be done and when, if participants don’t jump in, s/he will do it herself. Leaders have different space tolerances and problems can result. Co-leaders should discuss their space tolerance before a trip and negotiate how they will deal with differences. If I have a low space tolerance, and no one steps in, I feel uncomfortable that a need is not being met and I step in. This can prevent others (leaders and participants) from taking responsibility and can lock me into one role on a trip. I may need to expand my space tolerance to create opportunities for others.
  • Co-leadership – It is best for leaders to support each other in front of the group. If you have disagreements with your co-leader, it is best to work them out privately, unless you feel there is a safety issue involved. In that case, deal with the safety issue first.. Better yet, talk with your co-leader before the trip to explore the goals each of you has for the trip, what skills and experience you each bring, what areas you need support on, and to work out how you want to run the trip. This also lets you talk about possible areas for conflict like Space Tolerance.
  • Right to pass – people always have the right to pass on an activity. This is part of the philosophy of challenge by choice. In some situations, like debriefing, it is important to hear from everyone, so a pass means you will come back to that person later.
  • Pre-trip briefings – are an important way to start to set the tone for the trip. This includes discussing activity, laying ground rules, defining the roles of leaders, stressing minimal impact and safety, and doing some ice-breaking games (see Initiative Games below).
  • Leaders-of-the-day – is an important structural technique for moving responsibility for the group from the participants to the leaders.
  • Informal discussions – on the first night of the trip help set the tone for later debriefings. This gives an opportunity for checking out how the group felt the first day went, answering questions, and talking about the next day’s activities. It also give leaders a chance to share some of their thoughts in a low key way that starts to model self-disclosure.

This material is provided by the author for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience. Princeton University and the author assume no liability for any individual’s use of or reliance upon any material contained or referenced herein. When going into outdoors it is your responsibility to have the proper knowledge, experience, and equipment to travel safely. This material may not be reproduced in any form for commercial or Internet publication without express written permission of the author. Copyright © 1999, all rights reserved, Random House Publishing and Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.


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