What Not To Do / Adventure Sports  / What Not To Do When Leading Expeditions

What Not To Do When Leading Expeditions

Leading an expedition is an incredible opportunity. The places. The people. The challenges. You will not find a more immersive leadership opportunity. It is the immersive nature of this opportunity that makes it such a valuable experience to any leader or manager. Unlike traditional leadership roles, there is no time out, there is no office walls to hide behind and your decisions have direct repercussions for you and your team.

Sounds interesting right? Well, not everyone will get an opportunity like this. If you do, take it. If you don’t, keep reading as I explain a selection of the many failures I have had while leading expeditions and what lessons I learned.

Don’t neglect the basics

If you enter any conversation on leadership skills you are bound to hear a range of terms such as ‘vision’, ‘motivation’ or ‘communication skills’. However, it always surprises me how often basic human needs such as nutrition and sleep get overlooked. Surely people will take care of those needs themselves you might ask. The truthful answer is not always.

Some of my biggest failures as a leader have stemmed from this exact ignorance. I have had team members that don’t eat enough, don’t drink enough water or maybe stayed up far too late the night before. Whose fault is it? It’s mine. I wasn’t aware enough to realise that this was happening. We would push on towards whatever goal we had set, and only realise that half-way up a mountain that some of the team members were in no condition to summit.

How does this transfer back to more traditional leadership roles you might ask? Well, while hunger, lack of sleep or a generally unhealthy lifestyle might not stop you from completing a task in the normal world, in the great outdoors it is going slow you down. If you’re looking for that edge be sure to start with the basics and work up from there. After all, nobody wants to work with a ‘hangry’ person.

Don’t be a Micro Manager

Micro-managers, we have all met them. And maybe some of us are them. I was one up until I started leading expeditions. Anyone that has met one will know exactly how disempowering it can be to work with them, as well as how wasteful it is of time and resources. Don’t do what I did. Don’t be a micro-manager.

Early on in my expeditions career I was keen to impress. I would micro-manage everything throughout the expedition in a pursuit of perfection. However, as soon as I started being trusted with longer and more challenging expeditions, this approach became more and more untenable.

This is because leading an expedition, or leading anything for that matter, is really just one giant juggling act and no matter how good you are there is only so much you can juggle. Inevitably, balls started to drop and the expedition suffered as a result. My team members also began to tire of my approach. With nowhere to go, conflicts arose and added to the number of ‘balls’ I had to manage or juggle.

I soon realised that I needed a change. It wasn’t easy changing something so fundamental to my approach, but it paid off. Today my end goal is to bring team members to a level where they can work independently. I spend much more time training and mentoring team members on the skills they need, and in doing so, free myself up to tackle other unforeseen challenges. In addition, team members feel more empowered and are more motivated to take ownership for the expedition and its success. Above all, avoid being a micro manager, both you and your team will thank you for it.

Don’t ignore conflict, it will burn your house down

As leaders or team members on an expedition it is possible to forget how much influence our interpersonal choices can actually have. How we interact with team members, what we say, how we say it, what we do, can all have a range of results. Unfortunately conflicts or ‘fires’ can arise from these choices and it is our responsibility to manage them. Conflicts are to be expected of course, both on expedition and in normal life. Just don’t do what I did, don’t ignore the conflict, don’t ignore the flames.

During one period of my career in particular, I was having repeated conflicts with one fellow leader. At first, we were doing the right thing, we would talk and work things out. However somewhere along the line, as the conflicts grew more and more exhausting, we stopped talking. Over time our conflict grew, so before long its toxicity spilled over in to every aspect of our working relationship and the expedition suffered as a result. It wasn’t until it came to a natural conclusion that we both realised how much damage had been done, and all because we failed to deal with the conflict and put out the fire.

Don’t do this. When you depend on working together, don’t let conflicts go unchecked. Don’t let them grow like a fire that is going to burn your whole house down. This is as true for an expedition as it is for any organisation. The key difference to remember is that most organisations won’t work as closely with other team members as you would on an expedition. You need to work twice as hard to detect the conflicts in the first place. This has never been more true than now, as the world has rapidly entered a new era of remote working. An era where everyone needs to adapt, not just technologically but also interpersonally.


I have made lots of mistakes while leading expeditions and intend to make many more. Why? Well if you’re not failing at something you’re simply not trying hard enough.

Top Tip

Go and have your own failures.

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