One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about being at Harvard Business School Online is learning about the diverse experiences and insights everyone brings to the table. My background is actually slightly different in that I went to school for ecology and natural history. After being a Ridge Runner on the Appalachian Trail and a Park Ranger in Vermont—here are a few things I’ve learned about leadership while out in the woods: 

1. Plan for the worst…drinking water sources dry up.

Imagine whatever you need most to accomplish your mission, the most important part of the plan’s success—now eliminate it… like drinking water. Sometimes, your map says there is a stream at a certain location, and when you get there; it’s dried up. This could mean life or death, and it’s a situation you need to be ready for. Leaders need to be agile and have contingency plans in place to prevent failure based on critical components. 

2. A bear is not the worst of all evils.

When you come face to face with a bear, you learn real quick who does what in the woods. The reality behind black bears in southern New England is that they really aren’t as interested in you as you think. My point here is that if you go into a situation “knowing” the biggest evil that you’ll face—you often forget to look out for those small evils that could make things so much worse… like walking down a rocky mountainside with your shoes untied. A good leader looks at all eventualities, not just the one you’re most afraid of.  

3. Luxuries are a crutch—learn to live with the bare minimum.

It’s always a great feeling to have the most high tech equipment out there, but in a pinch—you need to know how to survive with just a knife and what you’re wearing. What I mean by this is that it’s important for a leader to be resourceful, because you can’t always count on the newest innovations to bail you out when you need them most. If you can’t make do with the bare minimum, you’re not ready to venture into the forest.  

4. Your team is more like a tree than you might know.  

A team is like a tree. The group together is the trunk—providing structure and strength as a cohesive unit. The individual members make up the roots—nourishing the structure. The leaves that grow are the successes you’ve achieved by knowing and using the resources of your group. A good team leader is like an arborist that will draw out a tree's best assets and foster an environment that allows it to thrive.

5. Just keep going.

Sometimes you might feel like another setback might just kill you. And here’s the thing; in the woods, it just might— but the reality is that it likely won’t and you just need to keep going. Keep your head down and persevere. Break any problem down into small chunks and focus on solving one piece at a time; I find systematic deconstruction will help you tackle even the most daunting tasks, without allowing yourself to become unnecessarily overwhelmed. 

Do you want to hone your leadership skills and be a more effective manager? Explore the eight-week online course Management Essentials and learn about how you can leverage critical organizational processes as a means of getting work done and achieving results.

Matt Chaput

About the Author

Matt Chaput is the Business Operations Specialist at HBX. He studied Conservation Ecology and Natural History at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, VT. When he’s not off gallivanting in the forest, Matt can be found in his lab practicing fermentation sciences.