Copper River Record February 28, 2019
By Robin Mayo
When you think of a leader, what comes to mind? Is it someone up on stage in front of a crowd, making an inspiring speech? Or perhaps an Arctic explorer breaking trail in a blizzard, exhorting their lagging teammates to keep up?
Last week, I was talking comparing notes with an outdoor educator friend about what we hope youth are learning from the adventures we organize. He recited the Scout Law that he still remembered word for word, 60 years since learning it: "A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.” We had a chuckle about the clean part, but agreed that these traits are also keystones of leadership. I grew up in 4-H and FFA, and the leadership ethic we learned included Humility, Integrity, Empathy, Collaboration, Communication, and Respect. Lectern thumping and heroic acts of physical endurance are never mentioned in either of these models.
As an adult, I’ve attended sophisticated leadership trainings which share the same ideas but include a lot less marshmallow roasting and silly games, which is a shame. One of the most useful models I’ve seen is Jim Collins’ 5 levels of leadership: Level 1 is the highly capable individual, Level 2 the contributing team member, Level 3 the competent manager, and Level 4 the effective leader. But to reach level 5, a Great Leader, you have all the abilities needed for the other four levels, plus you have the unique blend of humility and will that’s required for true greatness. How interesting that of all the leadership qualities, it is humility that takes you to the highest level.
But what does leadership look like in a down-to-earth, outdoor setting with youth? When you get a group of youth together for several days, natural leaders often emerge. These are the ones that the others naturally follow. There is no official title or symbol of leadership, and the individual may not even be aware of the role. If the natural leaders are going in the same general direction the adult organizers have planned, the camp is a delight for all. But sometimes the natural leader has other ideas, and relative chaos ensues. So part of our job is to identify and work with the energy of the youth leaders, and a safe, fun, and educational time will be had by all.
WISE is starting a new yearly tradition of honoring outstanding youth leaders, and at the Annual Meeting last Saturday we were pleased to name Josephine Beauchamp of Slana as our first leader. Josie participated in Outdoor and Wilderness Leadership Skills, Geology Camp, and Copper River Stewardship Program last summer, and recently travelled to Anchorage to attend Alaska Forum on the Environment. She is very much a quiet, behind the scenes leader, who last summer excelled at logistics, trip planning, and attention to detail. In early February she overcame her fears to speak in front of an audience of 75 people at Alaska Forum on the Environment, to help give a presentation on the power of wilderness experiences in building community. Josie is also an outstanding homeschooled student with Upstream Learning, and a star member of the Slana Archery Team.
Once you learn to look beyond titles and traditional leader roles, you find that leadership is all around you, in large and small acts of kindness, empathy, inspiration, and resolve. Several years ago one of our youth was asked to give advice to adults on including youth, and made a simple sign that stated, “Let Youth Lead!” It now hangs in the WISE office as a constant reminder that often, the best thing you can do is create an opportunity, then step back and see what happens.
Photo By Kate Morse, Copper River Watershed Project. WISE Leadership Award winner Josephine Beauchamp of Slana (Right) and Warren Brower of Gakona work together to transplant foliage onto a Dusky Canada Goose nest island on the Copper River Delta during Copper River Stewardship Program.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.