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4 tips for excellent expedition leadership

A professional explorer, also known as expedition leader, expedition guide or adventurer, is someone whose job it is to explore the world. There are many different ways to enjoy such a profession, and even more routes of entry, making excellent expedition leadership more of an art than a science. So we caught up with a few of our record setting pro explorer friends to get their top tips for anyone looking to explore the planet full time.


Firstly I’ll answer a couple of your burning questions..


What is professional expedition leadership?


Well, the job of an expedition leader is to lead the expedition… Duh. This means not only will they be organising the many moving parts required to make an expedition happen, but they will also guide the expedition in its entirety. They are the person with the know-how and grit to guide paying explorers towards their end goal- and extreme tour guide if you will. They will accompany the explorers on the trip, and offer their advice and support on all elements, from navigation to safety and rationing.

Can I become a professional explorer?


Yes, you can. This is not a job that you can just walk into, of course. There are many qualifications in outdoor safety, navigation, first aid and so on, as well as specific guiding qualifications that you will also need before an expedition company would even consider you for expedition leadership. However, if you love pushing your body to the limit and racking up points on the scoreboard of life, then this could be a massive career opportunity for you.

If you’re serious about doing this, you should have already completed some expeditions yourself. Here are some beginner expeditions that you could try. In fact, experience is entirely necessary so your first step would be taking on an expedition as a paying explorer.


Time for some top tips!


Expedition Leadership Rule 1: Get the right equipment


Polar exploration guide and record holder, Dixie Dansercoer, advises that you should only use the best kit you can find. Why? Because you’re putting safety and success of the expedition and your clients in the hands of your gear. Faulty, cheap or unsuitable equipment will falter or fail you when you need it most, which could mean you don’t complete your mission, or that a situation might emerge with significant exposure as a result.


Dixie has spent years building up caches of equipment in various hubs around the world, this ensures that it is properly stored, checked and maintained year round and doesn’t risk any damage during transportation/shipping. 


Expedition Leadership Rule 2: Get qualified!


In order for a company, and certainly a client, to take you seriously as a guide for their expedition you will need credibility. The best way to get this is to get qualifications in your chosen field, and certainly to take courses in the basics; first aid, navigation, avalanche safety, polar equipment and so on. You can gain credibility by completing expeditions on your own first, but just surviving or completing an expedition is not enough for someone to entrust you with their clients, their credibility, and in the case of the client, their lives. You could scramble your way around the world on a unicycle and make it out alive, but luck is not something a professional company will count on when consider your skillset for expedition leadership.


Dixie Dansercoer runs some exposure courses to set you on track, these are typically short 3-5 day trips to get you familiar with conditions and equipment. You should check these out.


Expedition Leadership Rule 3: Guiding is a love affair


“Not only must you have a great passion for what you are doing, but that love should transcend to the client who deserves to be respected”. When the going gets tough, there is a lot of emotional pressure and stresses on all members of the expedition party. You need to have the emotional intelligence to appreciate and understand the point of view of the client, when the learning curve becomes too steep. Always put yourself in the shoes of the client and learn to love the feeling of being outside of your comfort zone or helpless. This is a tough job and your love and passion for what you are doing and the people who you’re doing it with is paramount.


Expedition Leadership Rule 4: Be aware and communicate


To be a successful expedition guide you must be able to view the expedition through a wide angle lens. Your intuition and observation of the team, the environment and the equipment pays huge dividends by returning successful trips and keeping everyone safe. You need to know when to step in and take the reins, and when to step out and allow the client to experience things fully and uninterrupted. But, you also need to know how and when to be forceful, supportive and clear. It’s your job to communicate dangers and instructions clearly, but also to provide support and stability to the group.

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