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Mud, leadership and Kauai

Traditional flower of Hawaii
Traditional flower of Hawaii

This summer I took a a twelve-day trip in Kauai, Hawaii, organized by the Sierra Club. I travelled and lived with eleven other people from around the US I didn’t know. By the end, we twelve were a team who could do anything together.

Muddy Hiking trainin in Hawaii
One of our many muddy trails in Kauai – but look at the view!

The first days we hiked up incredibly steep mountains in the rain and mud for hours. This intense physical challenge quickly changed the fact that we hardly knew each other.

Everyone saw who was afraid of heights, who was comfortable in their own body, who tended toward messy and muddy (yours truly), and who could scale the biggest boulder in a single bound escaping all signs of mud.

Other days we scaled even bigger mountains for more incredible views.

So many feelings coursed through the group over the trip – anxiety, fear, exhilaration, curiosity, compassion, joy, frustration, excitement, and just plain old happiness at being re-united with nature. It was like watching a play, as we were all feeling this kaleidoscope of emotions; and our leader Colleen’s well thought out plan accommodated them all.

Muddy pants
Hiking clothes often ended up looking like this.

Even the most challenging emotions were somehow seamlessly woven into our week, as Colleen mapped out wonderful parts of Kauai for us to experience and enjoy.

Each hike ended with a swim in the Pacific Ocean – washing away whatever challenges we had had that day. After dinner, gentle yoga was the perfect ending that prepared the way for deep restorative sleep.

Stacy Sprout Beck
Waipa Executive Director Stacy Sprout Beck explaining the work of the foundation.

One highlight of the week was a too-short volunteer day at the Waipa Foundation . Executive Director Stacy Sprout Beck gave us an introduction to their beautiful land and vision for the future.

Waipa’s goals include preserving ancient Hawaiian customs and culture by re-creating an ‘ahupua’ – essentially cultivating and caretaking an ancient natural watershed area.

The lushness of the ahupua.

The staff of Waipa work this land, with a disciplined eye toward creating both environmental and human sustainability, something really needed in the fragile Hawaiian islands.

They also seek to engage non-Hawaiians in deeply reconnecting to nature by learning, experiencing and participating in ancient Hawaiian cultural pratices.

They are now in the process of creating a business structure to do this more formally.

I felt so grounded and connected to the land being there, part of something important and much bigger than myself, at least for that day. I left wanting to experience more of this ancient culture.

Beach in Kawai
Afternoon swimming beach!
hiking swamp trail
Hiking the swamp trail to the wettest place on earth.



So what did I learn in the mud and the rain, in experiencing another culture?

Leaders are guides.  Leaders cannot make me (or anyone else) do anything because I cannot abdicate responsibility for myself.  (Command and control is dead in terms of effective leadership.)  I also saw that if I and the group trusted the leader, we went to amazing places, physically and emotionally.

Leaders can help a team navigate the treacherous waters of wide ranging emotions by having a well-grounded plan that keeps the group focused.

Overcoming challenges together gave our team a great sense of accomplishment.

Leaders are not always first or loudest or even the ‘designated’ leader. Leading can mean learning to overcome personal challenges. One of our team members was terrified of heights – she quietly showed us how to scale tall mountains one step at a time – even with intense physical fear. She was indeed a leader, showing me how to overcome my own fears, one step at a time.

Leadership and healing are connected. Waipa is healing old wounds by re-birthing an ancient and sacred  way of life that for decades has been endangered and disrespected .  They are also healing newer wounds created by a western lifestyle that is so often very disconnected from nature and a more authentic way of being.

Do these lessons resonate with you?  Which do you want to adapt and adopt to strengthen your leadership abilities?

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