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On Everest in 1984, Lou Whittaker, a mountaineering guide and author of Lou Whittaker: Memoirs of a Mountain Guide, was struggling through waist-deep snow up to the North Col with his team, without oxygen, at 22,000 feet. Their condition was not good because there were numerous signals showing that there was avalanche danger with terrible fracture joints. At that point, Lou was breaking the trail, and he finally stopped to go ahead and said to the rest, “I think it’s getting a little spooky.
I don’t like the look of this.” John Roskelley, who was behind him, said, “Lou, I am glad you said it first. I’ve been feeling the same way.” They turned around to the place, there was just 400 feet short of the North Col. The decision led to their climb delay for two weeks. However, huge avalanches continued all that afternoon. (Graham,1997) From this case study, we can see that when facing the risk, as a leader, Lou was keenly aware of the potential danger and informed the group members to start decent timely, even though they had made a great effort and climbed to a considerable height.
During this process, effective communication played an important role in leadership, sending the right message and helping everyone keep away from the monstrous disaster.
There are plenty of definitions of communication. Among them, what makes me agree more is that “communication is a dynamic process in which we consciously or unconsciously affect the thinking of another through materials used in symbolic ways.
” (Andersen, 1972) In terms of the outdoor activities, effective communication is particularly valuable when you are a leader, and your messages, including decisions, information, suggestions, encouraging, etc., must be accessed by the group members, completely, clearly, and timely. (Graham,1997) From my point of view, effective communication is the most significant part of guiding leadership since it is a critical leadership skill, foundation to give and receive feedback, and of benefit to both leaders and group members.
First of all, effective communication is a critical skill that guide leaders must master. In 1982, also in Everest, when two serious avalanches happened and four team members died in a short period of time, the Canadian team's morale was low and some members planned to leave. In this case, the leader Bill is still determined to stay. He did not persuade or ask the climbers to stay, and did not spend a lot of time explaining to the people who questioned his decision, but told them that they might still be in danger and that decision they determined had to come from themselves. Bill also describes death as a 'logistical problem' and seems insistent on separating from the emotional element. It turned out that the choices made by the remaining climbers were not blind. After some struggle and hard work, the Canadian team successfully climbed Mount Everest under the leadership of Bill. (Patterson, 1990) In this tough mountaineering expedition, Bill demonstrates strong personal leadership, especially excellent communication skills. And this skill should not be ignored by every outdoor leader.
Leaders can show the horizon by communicating clearly and consciously to help everyone see and follow it so that each member of the group could increase performance and profitability, (Pauley, J. A., & Pauley, J. F.,2009) even, save their lives. Mostly, it’s not common to face so much danger and guide leaders could always use this skill in daily and low-risk activities, giving the members a hand conveniently. When instructing the Canoeing One, it is a good choice for you to demonstrate the paddling actions with a specific introduction; If you find your students, who are doing surfing, have difficulty moving very fast to catch the wave in the ‘outback’ area, you have the duty to tell them how to make the arms close to the body and paddle deeper to ensure the increase of the moving speed; once you could see a lot of rocks on your way when you take a lot of freshmen to participate in kayaking expedition and you paddle in front of the rest of the team, no matter whether shouting or making gestures, the warning must be sent to make them pay more attention to. Even though communication is an ordinary capacity that you have started when you are infants, it should be a life-long process for the leaders to master it. (Graham,1997)
Also, what increases the importance of effective communication in guiding leadership is that it is the key to give and take feedback. From numerous researches, feedback has been defined as “information describing students or house officer’s performance in a given activity that is intended to guide their future performance in the same or in a related activity ’’(Ende, 1983). And it is the best and most effective approach to get more competent, capable and effective for professionals in many fields by listening to and acting on feedback, (Folkman, 2006). There is no doubt that it ought to include guide leaders. Companies, through their leaders, have the responsibility to provide an accurate frame of reference for the employees to perform their jobs in the best conditions. (Radulescu, 2018) In the same way, in my opinion, groups, through their guide leaders, have the duty to improve wilderness skills and the ability of members with the best feedback to support them.
As far as a leader is concerned, it is a vital way to learn and grow by soliciting feedback on your own performance, especially encouraging feedback. (Graham,1997) When it comes to feedback, guide leaders can be regarded as both receivers and givers. As a receiver, you might observe your reactions, what you like or dislike in the way it was communicated to you. As a giver, you may encounter reactions that allows you to adjust the way you will act next time on a similar occasion. Self-observations or auto-evaluation helps to understand you better and how to relate to others. (Radulescu, 2018) Once the guide leaders could excel in both roles above, it should be quite difficult not to be employable.
What’s more, what should attract guide leaders’ attention is how to get feedback for themselves. I can’t agree more that the best way obtains honest and direct feedback is to ask for it and to make an explanation for your asking reasons. You need to believe in your team members because after being aware of your intention, they will respect you for making the request, and most often will give you some constructive responding. Also, don’t forget to evaluate feedback carefully. It’s better to focus on more what is consistent rather than something isolated. Share them with others who know you well to check them out if any comments are shockers. (Graham,1997) During the process of improving, feedback should be the most indispensable part with the help of effective communication, which is not only a kind of art but a sort of kindness.
Finally, it is beneficial for both leaders and group members to communicate effectively, showing opinions and comparing notes. By communication, group members are able to be aware of the introductions, decisions the leader made exactly, even the reasons for them. In the same way, leaders can figure out what the group members are thinking about and be aware of their views to introductions, decisions, etc., so that they can make right judgment and design and carry out the plans that satisfy the group's need.
Peter Whittaker, climbing guide and Summits Adventure Travel, has ever said, “communication means including your whole group in the decision-making process, as far as possibly can. If people feel that their views were at least considered—even if in the end they weren’t accepted—it can make a big difference in their attitudes. Given the time, explain your decisions, especially if the rationale is not evident.” On the mountaineering trip, similar conditions happen from time to time that on a sunny day, the leaders suddenly determined to turn back as they found that an innocent-looking slope ahead could lead to avalanches. And they’ll avoid a lot of trouble and misunderstanding with the careful explanation for reasons to the beginner. (Graham,1997) For both leaders and group members, effective communication could help them send more individual thought, decrease the gaps and build trust, which is beneficial for both sides.
Above all, effective communication can be seen as having the most significant role in guiding leadership. This important skill is not the only foundation to give and receive feedback but also the bridge between guiding leaders and group members. If there is no effective communication, it is quite difficult to image that the outdoor activities could be conducted normally, let alone bring the group members with a good experience. For guiding leaders, to succeed in communication, which is a two-way street, owning good information is the base. Then get it to the people needing it—accurately, completely, and on time. Double-check; keep your communication personal and open; tailor them; stay consistent between your message, body language, and tone voice; be a good listener and don’t be scared to make public presentations. (Graham, 1997). It is the first step that is troublesome. Let go of your inner shyness and diffidence, take the first step bravely, and enjoy the great charm and benefit brought by effective communication.
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