Wilderness Experiences and Leadership

How a Wilderness experience strengthens your Leadership

In four days I pick up my backpack and board a plane to Norway for a natural leadership wilderness trail (facilitated by the Foundation for Natural Leadership). A sleeping bag, hat, raincoat and a knife. And apart from that some warm clothes and small notebook, but that’s about all I bring. My phone, that little black rectangular attention seeker, is to be handed-in and returned to me only after the seven day trail.


Goal of the journey is to connect with what is truly important to me and strengthen my (natural) leadership accordingly. Apparently, nature is my guide along the way. One of the facilitators has been taking groups into wilderness for over ten years now and says “it always works”. Like a periodic vehicle inspection? In one of the texts I have to read as preparation it says: “Wilderness experiences provoke a shift from built structures (the shell of the ego-self) to fundamental structures (essence) through the process of mirroring.” Experiencing true nature calls to the front what really matters to you.


A day and two nights alone in nature

Part of the trail is a solo of two nights and one day. The idea is to find a spot without the presence of any other human being, ‘set up camp’ and spend the next 36 hours in that place. I’m looking forward and at the same time feel a slight uneasiness. I’ve never watched night fall while entirely alone in a remote place in nature. Neither did I spend a night in such a location without a tent. Exciting. And fascinating. I imagine to reach a point where I can really listen. Not like downloading information I look for, nor like listening for new facts or to empathise with an other. I hope I’ll be able to listen to this shift from my internal built structures to the essence. The challenge after the trail will be to realise and integrate the insights.


Natural Leadership in a business context

When I take all this to a business context it’s about defining vision and leadership development for change. Otto Schwarmer has developed Theory U to show the processes that precede leadership in change.



The U curve of co-sensing and co-creating by Otto Sharmer

In my own thinking, but also in that of the teams I work with, I tend to see the desire to jump in one straight line from the past to the future. As if you’d design an image of your future in an hour, put it on the wall and say: “now we do it the new way”. Like it or not, most probably you’re back to where you came from before you even know it. At least that’s what I mostly experience.


Schwarmer’s U curve nicely shows that for real change you first need to descend, open yourself to listen, see what’s happening around you and feel how that affects you. Spending time in this open phase can be quite uncomfortable. At the same time though, it lays the solid foundation for the leadership needed to determine and drive change. Accordingly we always spend time for this process at Ink Strategy when we work with teams on vision or change.


From insight to execution

Are you wondering where you want to go or how to get your team engaged? In that case it might be worthwhile spending some time in nature and listen. I can’t wait for my departure this Sunday and will look back at my experience in a later blog. I will also spend some time looking at the right side of theory U - integrating and executing the insights I hopefully get while in wilderness.


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March 2020

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