Seven simple lessons learned in leadership from seven teenage girls over seven days...

14 August, 2023

By Wendy Maltman

I recently completed a week long outdoor activity camp with a group of seventy 16 year old girls!

This was the third year that I had been a volunteer mentor at the camp, sponsored by Rotary, which uses outdoor activities to take young people out of their comfort zone to improve their teamwork and leadership skills.

Based at the fantastic Abernethy Outdoor Centre near Aviemore, the girls (and their mentors) take part in activities such as gorge walking, kayaking, mountain biking, raft building, rock climbing, abseiling, hillwalking in the Cairngorms and team challenges.

Each day the girls also heard from motivational and inspirational speakers who shared their life lessons and experience. Time each evening with my small group of seven girls gave us the opportunity to reflect on each day and the new skills we had learned.

Having been home now for ten days, my aches, pains and bruises are just about subsiding! I'm scarred by midge bites but having had time to consider my experience, I realise that the camp was also a great learning opportunity for me - and provided lots of insight that I can put into practice in my own business.

"Take a risk today, Darling"

When the girls arrived tentatively from all over the east of Scotland for the first day of camp, few of them knew each other, and their first few hours evolved around shy introductions. Sunday morning kicked off with speaker Anne Simpson and the topic of Confident Conversations. Anne shared tips on how to introduce yourself and strike up interesting conversations with strangers. She shared her own story of being a young woman leaving home on her own and relocating abroad encouraged by her father saying "Take a risk today, Darling". The girls are sent off to their first activities with this mantra ringing in their ears.

And such a great reminder that in business we often see greater rewards when we take greater risks.

Take time to read and understand all instructions

The first activity of the week for my group was a series of timed challenges. They were tasked with completing a puzzle to "unlock the door" and to find a map which would lead them to the other challenges around the site to complete the activity. The girls, who were still getting to know each other, worked well together to complete the puzzle fairly quickly, but they failed to understand that they needed a map before running out of the room across the site to find to the other challenges.

Having spent half an hour or so roaming rather aimlessly around, they decided to regroup to re-read the instructions discovering that they needed to go back to the room to find the map which was key to their success. On finding the map they were able to complete a further four challenges within their time limit. It was great to see them working so well together on their first day.

In business, it is crucial to understand instructions, or often in my case, the brief. It is so important to understand at the outset what is required, and we work closely with our clients so that we fully understand their business goals and ambitions.

Be prepared

Each evening a member of our group had to attend a briefing meeting with instructors and convey back to the girls what they would need for the following day's activity. This might involve critical safety equipment, a plentiful supply of food and water, a change of clothes etc. I found it incredibly frustrating when arriving at the meeting point to go out for our activity that someone had come without a waterproof coat, or a spare pair of shoes for water activities, or without water for a long mountain bike ride.

It inevitably held us up and limited the time out on our activity. In our group meetings I reiterated how important it was to plan ahead, think about what you might need for the next day and not leave it to the last minute to prepare. All good lessons for business!

Pay it forward

Having stressed the importance of preparation to the girls, I had to suppress a giggle when one of our instructors sheepishly admitted he had left his sandwiches at the Centre! On this day we were kayaking on the River Spey and had stopped on the sunny river bank for lunch. My offer of a squashed lemon curd sandwich was turned down... but a banana that had survived the journey in decent condition was eagerly received. Little was I aware that I was "paying it forward"...

In our business, we support many charities and local organizations, as well as students who are looking for a positive start in their careers. It's a great opportunity to put our skills to good use and often leads to new opportunities. We're often not aware that we are "paying it forward".

To read more and view photographs...

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