Take It Outside: An Outdoor Leadership Challenge Experience

"An experience I will have for the rest of my life.  The workshop took me to places mentally and physically that I never thought I could reach, but they never broke me…just made be stronger."

"You will do things you never did before with people you never met.  But it’s an experience you will never forget."

"It was the best training that I have ever been to.  It will challenge you and you will grow."

"I have been trying to get to this training for the past two years.  I wish that I would have made it here earlier.  This training will make you look deep into your past, present, and future.  It will challenge you.  It will give you the wings to soar with the eagles.  Come and bring everyone you know.  Be prepared to grow."

"This seminar helped me to focus on the most important part of my leadership equation – me.  To realize my values and to begin establishing a way to create my own leadership style based on my passions, and communicate them to those I am surrounded by."

Certified facilitators of The Leadership Challenge and other leadership development workshops have likely received comments such as these from participants. What makes these comments different is that these participants literally climbed, swung, stepped, and leaped beyond their comfort zone. And so did I.

As part of my certified master facilitator development plan for The Leadership Challenge, I chose to challenge myself in the same way we ask participants to challenge themselves – mentally, emotionally, and physically. A co-facilitator with my Certified Master Mentor Steve Houchin of International Leadership Associates, I spent four days at Camp Joy Outdoor Education Center in Ohio co-facilitating The Leadership Challenge Workshop for leaders from Kroger Manufacturing – four days I will never forget.

I was going to push myself to the “edge of my comfort zone,” as Steve put it. I had finished six marathons so how big of a deal could the physical challenges be… a mistaken assumption on my part.

My first “incident report” came from an unexpected body slam during the “Nitro Crossing” while I was photographing the experience -- no harm done. I wasn’t deterred from my ultimate goals – the high ropes course and the pamper pole. I had something to prove to myself, and nothing was going to keep me from those experiences. We’ve all seen our share of obstacles, and these activities were tangible proof that we are stronger than the limitations in our minds.

On to the high ropes course. Steve helped me determine which ones would be appropriate, given the fact that I was having a lower back procedure in two weeks. I completed three elements on the course, among my greatest achievements. My second “incident report”:  I experienced “cable burn” with an abrasion and bone bruise ... battle scars I'm proud to say stay with me today. I hold the dubious honor of being the only facilitator to “earn” two incident reports during the same stay – my claim to fame at Camp Joy.

The culmination of our four days together is the Pamper Pole. A telephone pole that one can climb to the height of their choosing, and decide how to make the leap of faith. Prior to the Pamper Pole, participants make a commitment statement that answers the questions: What fear or doubt will they leave behind? What strength will replace that fear or doubt? How can the rest of the group support us in our climb to the top of the Pamper Pole?

This activity reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.” - Guillaume Apollinaire

Each of us shared what held us back, what will move us forward, and what support we needed. As leaders, many of us (myself included) are reluctant to tap into our personal support systems, for various reasons. I made my commitment statement, climbed to the top of the pole, sat on the edge, and “flew.” I held back my tears, at least until no one was around to see them.

The comments from the participants sum up the experience better than I can. No matter what the environment of The Leadership Challenge Workshop – inside or outside – the outcomes speak for themselves. The Leadership Challenge -- or any leadership development program -- is not just a “flavor of the month” training that one takes and puts on the shelf, never to be reviewed again. The experience changes lives for the better -- for facilitators and participants.


This post originally appeared on The Leadership Challenge's LeaderTalk blog.

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