The Evolution of Leadership: Takeaways From Emerging and Seasoned Leaders in the Active-Outdoor Industries

The Evolution of Leadership

Takeaways From Emerging and Seasoned Leaders in the Active-Outdoor Industries

Photo: @byronswezy Dragon Fruit Video

The word “leader” has countless iterations. Ask around and you’ll receive a different answer every time you pose the question: “What does leadership really mean?” While we’re constantly seeking a more definitive answer, we also realize it’s dynamic, malleable, and constantly evolving. At the same time, we need to support emerging leadership, even if we’re not entirely certain of its parameters.

On May 2, 2018, in Golden, CO, a panel of leaders gathered to discuss the subject more deeply, including our very own Deanne Buck, executive director of Camber Outdoors. Joining her was Aisha Weinhold, founder and CEO of No Man’s Land Film Festival; Karen Capaldi, founder of The DreamMaker Project and store manager at Starbucks; Molly Cuffe, Director of Global Communications at Smartwool; and moderator Cat Alletto, founder, facilitator, and producer at Spark4. Together, the group discussed the state and potential of emerging leaders across age groups and industries. Here’s what they took away from the conversation.

Cat Alletto, founder, facilitator, and producer at Spark4

Differences in communication styles can be leveraged.
The multi-generational workforce has more in common than not. One of the main things that stand in the way of us getting to know each other and understanding our commonalities is a simple fact that we have been taught to communicate differently. This is a perceived gap that can be overcome by anyone who is motivated to achieve positive outcomes and is willing to increase their own self-awareness. Leaders can make authentic connections with others and maximize conversations by considering who they are talking to, how that person likes to communicate, and by adopting that person’s preferred style of communication to engage in a trust-building, productive dialog.

Creating company identity through an inclusive process translates to employee engagement.
Company culture is what makes or breaks a person’s commitment and tenure at their job. If an employee is aligned with the company’s purpose, feels appreciated by their leaders, has the support to develop new skills within the company structure, and experiences a sense of “play” at work (in this context, play means being meaningfully challenged, able to contribute to creative solutions, etc.), they are more likely to stay with the company longer and produce better work. This collaborative process is a cultural foundation that motivates a highly engaged workforce.

Karen Capaldi, founder of The DreamMaker Project and store manager at Starbucks

There’s always room for improvement at any level.
One of the main takeaways from the panel was a sense of movement – meaning that we talked about what has been happening with our work culture and what we can do to have a positive impact moving forward. We must continue thinking about how we can evolve and propel forward in ways where we all improve. One way to do this is to consider a “sense of relatedness,” such as having workplace culture reflect the values of the people. Listening to, and engaging with, employees to understand and meet their needs is reflective of a leadership style that enables real growth and engagement across organizations.

The process of growing and evolving is janky and awkward, but also provides a sense of hope. We all know it must happen AND, if we lean into it, we will all be better for it, not only professionally but personally… and that is pretty darn amazing.

Aisha Weinhold, CEO of No Man’s Land

The “traditional” career path and workplace environment are extinct.
People entering the workforce today are beginning to drive the power behind today’s economy. It is incredible to hear the lengths that organizations are going to in order to create a work environment where these workers can flourish. Many organizations now focus more on social impact, using employee’s passions as motivators, and utilizing one-on-one conversations over standardized evaluation. Being one of those people (I have been largely self-employed), I find these changes necessary as well as problematic. My generation has dismantled the evolution of the career path and undeniably altered the way that organizations do business from the inside out. While I do see organizations’ internal transformations as progress, I wonder if we are bowing too low to allow millennials to flourish? As a millennial, I can appreciate a standard nine-to-five job, and while my larger role in the industry is running an impact-based organization, I see and feel the value of working in positions that are separate from passion and personal interests. Sometimes I wonder if “the grind” is being lost and how that affects my generation’s productivity, impact, and ethics as a whole.

The definition of leadership is constantly evolving and taking different forms.
Holy, moly! What does leadership even mean any more?! When I think of leaders, I clearly see a figurehead, one individual guiding the masses. In my mind, this individual is an expert in their field and works tirelessly to remain in that position. More and more, I see this definition changing, which, I believe, ultimately affects a “leader’s” potency. The digital age has created platforms where anyone can become a figurehead in nearly any capacity and with any message. Beyond leadership becoming more accessible with a more limited buy-in, being a leader has become so glamorized that we are losing quality followers. The prevailing narrative leaves us with two options, to be a leader or a “sheep.” A leader is only as effective as those who have mobilized around them. In the digital age, I see an abundance of “leaders” but with a nebulous and often only superficially engaged following. If you are purely leading, but unable to activate and motivate those around you, are you still a leader? And why is relinquishing a leadership role or wishing to be a collaborative member of a team such a negative?

Molly Cuffe, Director of Global Communications at Smartwool

Leadership is more than a title.
There is a very critical distinction between an emerging leader and a young leader. I truly believe leaders can emerge in any season of their career life. However, I think often times when we hear or use the word “emerging,” what we actually mean to say is “young.” I think it is important, as we talk about leadership, that we are clear in this distinction, because there is the potential to overlook an entire category of “emerging” leaders. We need to remain open as we look for and identify leaders on our teams, in our companies, and the industry.

Those who are the best leaders bring their whole selves to work. We no longer compartmentalize our lives. Showing a little vulnerability goes a very long way in building trust among teams.

We need to be having a more honest dialogue on what works and what doesn’t.
The second takeaway was that we need more discussions like this. Open, honest dialogue about what’s worked, and just as importantly, what hasn’t worked, is invaluable in creating a vital and vibrant industry. The better we are able to nurture our emerging leaders, the stronger our industry will be.

Deanne Buck, Executive Director of Camber Outdoors

Leadership is less of a framework and more based on experience.
There is no “one size fits all” for leadership. Each of the panelists brought to the conversation a nuanced understanding and approach to what it means to be a leader. However, not one of us is waiting for someone to anoint us or give us permission. As the workforce evolves and more and more people are oscillating between engaging at a company and having “side hustles,” which become full-time gigs, the traditional path to leadership outlined in 99% of management books to date is challenged. It is no longer coming up through the ranks but is an interwoven fabric of experiences—learning, listening, being bold, being wrong, failing forward, and saying “yes,” even if one doesn’t have all the answers.

The Emerging Leaders Panel occurred as a part of The Wright, an annual Colorado event that recognizes and celebrates a unique breed of leader at the intersection of lifestyle and commerce.

Formerly the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC)


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