We just returned from an expedition with six amazing leaders, and the learnings came from “hearing the unheard.”

It always amazes me how the wilderness can be a catalyst for transformation, and the birth of lifelong relationships. As the leader of such expeditions, I have found that my “curriculum” is simply a template – not a rigid guide. Selecting adventurous net-givers who have heroic aspirations helps, but it’s the environment and the expectation of holding one’s views lightly that is the real teacher.


The location was a remote wilderness area near Moab, Utah. It’s an intentional step away from daily routines, which can be insular, noisy, and narrow making the time for reflection and re-thinking current approaches a challenge. The Self-Reliant Leadership Crucible is designed to provide a powerful experience for executives, and foster the exchange of new ideas, and a unique opportunity to hone one’s leadership edge. The goal is to take leadership abilities to new levels in an intense, dynamic and unpredictable environment with a focus on facing adversity with resiliency, resourcefulness, clear communication, and more effective decision-making.  


Through the Green Beret Foundation’s Next Ridgeline, two Green Beret soldiers also participated. One left active duty a few years ago, and one is currently serving in the National Guard, and will deploy again in harms-way. Both are interested in making important contributions in the business world, and the goal of The Crucible is to expose them to business executives who can help them see they already possess the skills needed for today’s business challenges: Leadership, teamwork, critical problem solving skills, resourcefulness, resilience, and a high adversity quotient.

The objective and expected outcome is that the Green Berets will gain confidence while realizing the only element they’re missing is a new vocabulary. The other outcome is that the Green Berets will impart just as much wisdom and knowledge on the business executives.

Here is what we learned:

FLUID…

The Crucible Team Traits: Fluid, Fit & Fast!

I have led quite a few teams in the wilderness, but I have never seen a group sans an outlier or two. Through every obstacle, the entire group moved effortlessly, fluidly, and with purposefulness.   It reminded me of Newton’s first law… A body in motion stays in motion, and inertia is the direct result. Donald Sull in his seminal HBR article, “When Good Companies Go Bad,” used this description:

“Active inertia is an organization’s tendency to follow established patterns of behavior—even in response to dramatic environmental shifts.”

With this newly formed team, there weren’t established patterns of behavior, or dogma stifling creativity. Instead, the team used a very collaborative decision making approach to all the obstacles we encountered, and relied on the collective adaptability and resourcefulness of each individual to overcome physical obstacles; which also presented problem-solving (mental) opportunities. In some cases where the risk (and perceived risk) was high, the team demonstrated the ability overcome emotional challenges as well with encouragement rather than peer-pressure.

FIT…

The Crucible Team Traits: Fluid, Fit & Fast!

The team was fit as is in fitness, and fit as in agreement/harmony. Each person was most concerned with how they could contribute to the development of others than themselves. Each participant possessed the desire to improve their own character through the pursuit of six core virtues:

  1. Courage
  2. Wisdom (Knowledge)
  3. Justice (Fair-mindedness)
  4. Humanity (Generosity)
  5. Temperance (Discipline)
  6. Transcendence (Purposefulness)

The executives and Green Berets were willing to face their edge. As Bill George wrote in “Authentic Leadership” about leader effectiveness:

“Their leadership emerged from their life stories. consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core.”

FAST…

The Crucible Team Traits: Fluid, Fit & Fast!

Speed showed up in a lot of ways during The Crucible. We’re mindful that sometime to speed up one has to slow down. What we saw happen fast was trust; which came from people being open… and vulnerable. Instant trust bonded the group together quickly, and with common goals, the group became a tight-knit team almost instantly.

Communication was fast. Not in manner of intonation and speech, but in concise discussions, and quick feedback.

We also focused on the three pillars of Self-Reliant Leadership (Self, Others and Organization).   Our conversations centered on how the experience translated to the business world.

  • Should we actually slow down to speed up?
  • Does the team really know what’s expected of them – i.e., direction and pace?
  • Why don’t we communicate more positively and effectively on a daily basis?
  • Why don’t we view all of our personal decisions in the context of the effect on the team?
  • Why don’t we invest more time in developing our people?
  • Why are we so obsessed with activity versus the intersection of results and behavior (i.e., performance)?

We surmised the need to view investing time in people the same way we look at checking off things on a to-do list. As a leader, people are your primary to-do. We also realized that by slowing down, we’re going to focus on the most important priorities and give them the quality time they deserve to rapidly advance the objectives that anchor our most audacious goals.

Step back, slow down and hear the unheard. Know the values, assumptions, beliefs, expectations, pains unexpressed, complaints not spoken, and spirit of the people you lead. Only then can you understand when things aren’t’ right, inspire confidence, and help others alter their path to create powerful futures.

By slowing down and hearing the unheard we build focus. Being focused allows us to create an inspired common purpose – based on shared values and common virtues – that binds people together.

The Green Berets are a force multiplier for the betterment of oppressed people, and that’s a great model for any leader who asks, “For whose good do I serve?” It’s an honor and a privilege to work with (and learn from) leaders who possess heroic aspirations, and believe the best way to advance a cause is through camaraderie and the development of others.


* The Crucible expedition would not be possible without sponsors, and we are extremely grateful for the generosity of Western Union, and their top-tier executives who have been actively participating and contributing to the cause with their own special talents (e.g., Veterans Career Open House – November 6th).


The Crucible Team Traits: Fluid, Fit & Fast!

Jan Rutherford | entered the US Army at age 17, and spent six years in Special Forces as a medic and “A” team executive officer, and three years as a military intelligence officer. He has over 25 years of business and healthcare experience in executive roles in business development, marketing, sales, training, product management, and as a CEO.

He is the founder of Self-Reliant Leadership, LLC – a leadership development firm focused on helping leaders and teams develop self-reliance to create powerful results through executive workshops, custom programs, coaching, and wilderness expeditions. As a professional speaker, he presents to leaders at organizations and associations in the U.S. and Europe. He is also a consistent blogger on the subject of leadership and change.

Jan is the author of “The Littlest Green Beret: On Self-Reliant Leadership” where half the proceeds go to the Special Operations Warrior and Green Beret Foundations. Jan serves as a Senior Advisory Council Member for the Colorado ESGR (a Department of Defense volunteer program), and the University of Colorado Denver Boots to Suits program.

As a senior instructor at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, Jan teaches “Leadership in New Ventures” for MBA students and Doctor of Nursing Practice candidates; and “Leadership & Entrepreneurship in Ireland” in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He is also a charter facilitator and coach for the Learning Ascent Program, which won first place in the Non-Profit Organizations category for HR.com’s 2014 Global Leadership 500 Excellence Award.

Jan holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix, where his research focused on the effects of long-distance learning on job performance. He earned his undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of South Florida, and was a Distinguished Military Graduate.  He is a dual U.S. and Irish citizen, and splits his time between Denver & Portland with a special affinity for Ireland and the trails in the Rocky Mountains.