Leadership in the Outdoors: Leading with the Conservation Corps
I can’t tell you enough how excited I am to be talking about leadership with the Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC). This summer 2016, was my first time ever serving with the WCCC and the first time I have ever professionally in the outdoors. It was one, if not the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I am thrilled to talk about my experience this summer as well as some advice for new-comers or veterans alike. There are three core values that I stuck to this summer and will focus on for this talk. Confidence, passion, and humility are the three values I want to emphasize. I hope whether you are the director, a field coordinator, crew leader, corps member, or onlooker that you enjoy what I have to share!
I want to begin with confidence. Coming into a new environment and realizing you are expected to be a good leader in a field you know little to nothing about can be terrifying!! This should not be concerning, however, because good leadership doesn’t necessarily come from just knowing how to do everything. If you think you do know everything now as a crew leader, then you are in for a surprise! What a good leader can instill in your crew though is confidence.
You and your crew will always find yourself in situations where you don’t know what you are doing. As a leader, your attitude will affect your entire crew. If you let you crew know through your attitude that everything will be okay in confidence then there is nothing that will completely tear apart your crew. It’s easy when difficult situations arise to freak out, get angry, or want to hide in a box, but all of those reactions will tell your crew that you are not in control. What your crew will always need is somebody to confidently move forward whether or not they know what they are doing.
Lastly, a confident leader always aims to build up his/her crew. Nothing screams “I am unsure of myself and the world around me” quicker than a leader who feels the need to constantly blame everyone for things gone wrong. Take responsibility for mistakes that your crew makes, and always be looking for an opportunity to encourage your crew. Confidently encouraging your crew will remind them that they are loved, safe, and are free to enjoy their time at the conservation corps =].
I’m going to share a quick story with you about myself. I grew up in Atlanta, GA where suburbia reigns and street signs outnumber trees. At 15 years old my family took a trip to Bella Coola, British Columbia to go fishing. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the fishing all that fulfilling, but I started volunteering at a local salmon hatchery where I spent an entire month building fences, slinging salmon into pens, and collecting milt and eggs. Volunteering at the salmon hatchery became one of the most pivotal experiences of my entire life. I learned that in order for the world around us to stay beautiful that we also needed to care for it! This experience eventually became a passion for conservation over 12 years later. What happened in me is what I’d call a deep passion for protecting and restoring what I knew to be beautiful!
If you haven’t had an experience like this before that has driven you to serve with the conservation corps, don’t worry! I truly believe the conservation corps gives you the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a way that can make you passionate about not just conservation, but about your life! Allow your experiences here to shape who you are. Leading or serving at the conservation corps is not an easy task. You will be challenged to the brink of exhaustion, anger, and a “I’m just gonna quit” attitude. In those tough times, I’d encourage you to not forget why you joined the corps to begin with. Did you come because it pays more than McDonalds or did you join to make a difference in the world and work in the most beautiful office in the world? Don’t forget those little moments when you get a chance to meditate on something truly beautiful and in that moment remember that serving here is making a huge difference.
Leaders, don’t forget that the difference isn’t just the environment, but your crew members. I can’t emphasize enough…this is not about you! Everything you are doing is to build up your crew members so they can serve well. That is your sole objective. One thing I always repeated to my Assistant Leader, “set the crew up for success”. The better your crew is doing, the better you will be doing. Don’t be afraid to go out of your way to remind your crew that they are important and that your passion is for them. Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with them and find that your passion is not just for the outdoors anymore, but your passion is now in the people who surround you.
I left this topic last because it is the most important value I could talk about to leaders and crew members alike. Without humility, you cannot be a successful leader. You may be able to be proudly successful, but humility allows you to learn and teach others how to become the best version of themselves.
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” -Confucius
If you are coming into the conservation corps thinking you know it all, you will be quickly humbled. Even though our culture often despises humility by boasting about how great we all are, I’m going to let you in on a secret: You really aren’t as great as you think, but with humility, you will become greater than you ever imagined. Accept that you don’t know everything, but have the confidence to move forward and passionately lead your crew. If you are a crew member and you think you can do a better job than your leaders, remember that your crew leaders need you and are doing much more than you even know.
At the end of the day, never forget that your love and support for your crew members or crew leaders is what will make this experience the most enjoyable, productive, and unforgettable experience of your life. Don’t let the dull moments get you down, because through those moments you are part of something that is much bigger than yourself.
I hope that something I said will stick with you and remind you what your service is all about =].