Mobilization and Events

Outdoor Conversations with Jake Wallace: Leadership in the Wild and Out

Jake's Profile PicJake Wallace has been a NOLS Wilderness First Responder instructor for five years now. In that time he has guided in Chile, Patagonia, and Seattle. He obtained his masters in Public Health at the University of Iowa with a thesis centered on outdoor education in regards to mental and physical health. His non-profit “Beyond Adventures” in Boulder, CO has been getting underprivileged kids outdoors for 3 years now. I was able to sneak Jake away from his busy schedule and pick his brain on outdoor leadership skills and how they translate to everyday life. This is what he had to say:

Brad Lane: What are some of the leadership skills that you never go on trail without?

Jake Wallace: The most important skill I never leave home without is the ability to communicate. Out on trail, good honest communication is key for a successful trip. To be able to openly talk about what is going on is one of my biggest assets on trail. Ensuring everyone is on the same page and can give and receive honest feedback is the best way to evolve as a group or team. It’s the only way to learn.

BL: In the Applied Leadership course you’ll be teaching in the summer at CU, you talk about making the leap from outdoor leadership skills to everyday life, where does that transformation take place?

JW: Once again, it’s all in the communication. Leading in the outdoors makes you realize to say less and mean more, to make your words count and actions speak louder. It’s interesting, I have guided Google CEO’s, breast cancer survivors, at-risk youth, and anything in between, and everyone picks up on this as they go. The woods are an equalizer and everyone learns leadership in their own way. It’s about adopting confidence, and the best way to do that is through receiving feedback, both good and bad. Being an outdoor leader, and a leader outside of the woods, means being able to communicate ideas and getting everyone to pitch in.

BL: What importance do you place on hard-skills versus soft-skills? Which do you think has the heavier impact on camping and everyday life?

JW: The easy answer is that it is dependent on the situation and the person. But of course, their is a basic balance that you need to find to successfully be able to communicate and teach. The way I’ve been looking at it for some time now is that the hard-skills you acquire are symbolic of bricks in a wall. They are strong, sturdy knowledge that build your foundation and ensure some security. These skills would be something like how to safely travel across a glacier, properly placing strong gear while trad climbing, or splinting a broken bone. The soft skills, the communication and the ability to adapt, represents the mortar that binds these bricks together. You really do need both to have a sturdy leadership style, and to say one is more important then the other would be contradictory.

BL: What would be your best advice for people that want to stand up and be leaders in their community, industry, everyday life, but who feel their voice is not loud enough?

JW: It’s as simple as getting out and meeting people. The best way to practice your outdoor communication skills is to go communicate in the outdoors. Surround yourself with people that specialize in something and learn all you can from them. By developing long-term professional and casual relationships, a lot of resources can be opened up for any type of advancement.