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Developing Leadership Resilience Through Adventure

15 September 2020

Adventure is a big part of my life. Whether it's skiing down a mountain, scaling a rock wall, hiking through the wilderness, or getting lost in a foreign land, it has become my resilience muscle that I can flex to overcome obstacles, confront fears and recover from setbacks personally and professionally.

Resilience is important for our mental and physical well-being and it is the ability to bounce back from adversity.

Developing resilience (and other leadership) skills outside of the traditional classroom training is not a new concept. NASA has been doing this for years, as they take their astronauts in training on outdoor expeditions to develop trust and crucial leadership skills.

Just as there many ways to climb a mountain, there may be many ways to build resilience. For my practice, I focus on finding a balance between four domains: emotional, mental, physical, and social. I particularly like the Centre for Creative Leadership's model for 8 resilience practices based on research and science and the four domains.


Developing and nurturing a broad network of personal and professional relationships creates a strong base of support. When you're climbing a rock wall, you're relying on the person supporting you from below and this is critical to achieving the goal, dealing with challenges, and developing perspective. Likewise, it's important to have a support person or crew around you who can provide perspective to help you succeed.


Being intentional about setting time aside to make contact with your network is important, especially during periods of isolation as we're experiencing currently. A lot of adventure sports are not designed to be solo and you need a buddy when you're out skiing the backcountry in case you get into trouble. I found that not only did I make lifelong friends on my adventures but being part of a community of like-minded ski enthusiasts or avid rock climbers became crucial for support and encouragement.


Research has proven that regular exercise has many benefits and improves our ability to process stress and simultaneously increases our resilience. Adventurous sports like skiing, hiking, or rock climbing can have more than just physical benefits. It also enhances your mental agility as you need to plan your route, problem-solve when you encounter challenges, and adapt to the changing environment.


I like my sleep and I don't function well if I am not getting 7-8 hours of sleep regularly. After a day of mental and physical activity, a restful slumber is needed for our bodies to recharge. Likewise, detaching from work and making time for sleep each night is scientifically proven to make you more resilient as a lack of sleep can impact your overall mental wellbeing.


Scaling a rock wall can be challenging physically and mentally as you're trying to face your fears, dealing with the cold or heat, tiredness, or unexpected setbacks, all of which demands and builds resilience. It builds resilience skills such as emotional regulation, realistic optimism, and impulse control (not to freak out). Practicing mindfulness can help with stress, uncertainty, and setbacks. Mindfulness also fosters learning, new perspectives, and a degree of self-awareness that can enhance your resiliency.


If you've ever spent time in the mountains, you'll know that the weather can quickly change. No matter how much you plan, things can get out of control unexpectedly and you need to re-appraise the situation and adapt. This practice of reappraising enhances our ability to embrace new perspectives, gain new understandings, and apply them during times of change. This pandemic has shown us that we can't hold on to old behaviours and skills just because they're familiar, especially when it's obvious that they don't work anymore.


The practice of consciously savouring the good things in life is important because neuroscience research suggests that our brains have a negativity bias, so leaders must be intentional about enhancing positive moods, experiences, and emotions. As a leader, you can practice this by providing positive feedback and celebrating wins. Release serotonin, the chemical in your body that contributes to wellbeing and happiness and known as a natural mood stabilizer.


Be purposeful about taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate small things throughout your day and practicing gratitude. I always stop to enjoy the view and appreciate the beauty that is around me before I ski down the mountain and the problems of your daily life become relative to the bigger picture.

"Resilience is a crucial ingredient to a happy, healthy life. More than anything else, it's what determines how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down…" (Reivich and Shatte, 2002).

As Edmund Hillary once said: "It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."


Center for Creative Leadership. 2020. 8 Steps To Become More Resilient | Center For Creative Leadership. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 March 2020].

Myers, C. and Doyle, M., 2020. Get Adventurous With Your Leadership Training. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 February 2020].

Reivich, K., & Shatte, A. (2002). The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.

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