The Philosophers Stone Of Expedition Leadership
The Philosophers Stone Of Expedition Leadership
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The interest in and inspiration for this book was derived from the author's background experience and knowledge of adventure expeditions. This valuable experience can be detected within the text of this work but its' attractiveness is derived from the observation of other experienced members of expedition teams around the world. The challenge of adventure expeditions are part of the reason why expedition leaders and team members choose to face unfamiliar situations such as difficult weather or terrain, changes in travel plans or using new equipment and adventurous pursuit in a strange or unknown place. The problems to be faced can of course never be fully predicted. The challenge of this uncertainty is one of the reasons why people become involved in expeditions but it is also the source of conflict and danger. It is the management of these diverse and changing factors that are the concern of the leader, a complex and dynamic process.

It can be implied that adventurous expeditions are demanding experiences full of opportunities and potential problems. This later proposition can be justified as a result of previous bad practice and unsavoury incidents within the sphere of outdoor adventure. The indications are that expedition leaders need to share good practice and should possess the required leadership qualities. They need to consider developing suitable guidelines that could give an outline of the roles and responsibilities of an expedition leader. There appears to be a need to identify the desired qualities of expedition leaders in order to develop the essential professional training programmes and safe expeditions that use good practice.

In terms of personal experiences of leadership Hillary, (2001) would say that the military provided him with a blueprint of acceptable leadership behaviours. Looking at the training he went through with Special Forces reveals some of the unique qualities that are required to fulfil this role. He says that conventional military regiments differed somewhat to the democratic, even abdicratic approach of Special Forces units such as the SBS, SAS and 2REP French Foreign Legion. While he was serving with the Marines he wanted to transfer to Special Forces but was refused entry to the organisation because of his commitment to the Corps. A Corps Commission was not challenging enough for him personally. This was a blow at the time but he eventually rejoined the regiment anyway after resigning from the Marines. His first period of SAS training followed passing of the usual Battle Fitness Test (BFT) that was completed while at a barracks off the King's Road in Chelsea. Hillary, (2001) explains that his first association with the unit occurred in 1980. Actions then included the Iranian embassy incident under direction of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) team and patrols in areas of the middle east that were subject to violent terrorist actions. He served also with 23 and 21 between 1985 and 1992 and the French Foreign Legion experience came early in his career.

Original selection for the regiment is on recommendation from a present serving member of the SAS and the officer commanding of your conventional military unit, in this case the Scots Guards. Hillary, (2001) ironically says that his battalion's representative member just happened to be a chap called Hunter who went on to command the unit and is now a serving military General. Interview with his commanding officer and Hunter was followed by a trip to Hereford and an introduction to the selection team. The medical took place at the same time. Personal details were logged, size charts for kit and all other formalised documentation was completed. Following a stringent medical that reviews eyesight, hearing, weight, blood sugar and leg strength for parachute jumping, attestation and a sworn oath to the Queen is taken. The introductory navigation sessions that Hillary's team experienced over hilly terrain with about 45lb carrying were very basic and the swimming test was elementary. Everyone comes from a different background but all team members seemed to gel very quickly. He emphasises that they were not forced to do anything but were just expected to do as they were asked. Following these initial ice-breaking activities a run-down of the course is given by knowledgeable and experienced staff. It was emphasised that the course they were to embark on would be as hard as ever and is carried out in the remotest parts of the country.

We tend to forget that the human body is able to withstand the most arduous conditions. The 'cyber-geeks' may think that they are having a great life experience playing with their Personal Computers (PC's) but there is nothing like the real thing to get a rush of Adrenaline. In reality our bodies have very few mental and physical limits. With expert training regimes such targets can be achieved. It really is possible to develop enough stamina in order to pass an SAS selection course.


Dr. William A. Donkin

BSc(Hons) CertEd CMS PhD

William A. Donkin was born in 1960, the son of a coal-miner from Brandon, just outside the cathedral city of Durham. His experience as a leader of adventurous outdoor activities and expeditions was developed through opportunities provided by Her Majesties Forces. Many of the expeditions he has been involved in were a unique learning encounter designed to provide skills and insight through experience. He worked in co-operation with others to strive for mastery of skills and to discover the talents and abilities of group members. The activities were usually fast paced and utilised hands-on learning. William's recent involvement in outdoor activities is substantial in that he has organised and carried out expeditions with numerous groups around the country. He feels that his work with young people and Durham University Exploration Society has been particularly rewarding. Many of the competent members of the society have travelled to many and varied parts of the world. Over the years he has developed a distinct philosophy on outdoor education and believes that good leadership is not convincing people to do it his way but to ensure that everyone's ideas are heard.

The Expedition Advisory Centre within the Royal Geographical Society is the main authority for advice on planning major expeditions in the United Kingdom. William is an RGS fellow and is on their 'expedition list' and list of lecturers on expedition topics. He has organised and presented lectures and workshops to universities, colleges, clubs and societies, corporate companies and young people. He has planned a number of expeditions and provided a wide variety of talks and practical demonstrations on expedition topics. He has worked for the Universities of Northumbria, Sunderland and Durham and has recently successfully completed his Doctorate in Expedition Leadership.



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