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The Outdoor Leader:

Resilience, Integrity, and Adventure

In this inspiring new guide, experienced leader Jeannette Stawski focuses on the essential attributes of outdoor leadership: resilience and grit, integrity, tolerance for adversity, and highly developed listening and communication skills. She explores the ways a transformational leader makes good decisions, creates and champions a vision, and leads meaningful change. Personal anecdotes illustrating hard-won lessons are included throughout, while exercises emphasize key points and encourage readers to apply what they’ve learned to their own situations.


Drawing in part on the teachings of Karel Hilversum, co-director of Cornell’s Outdoor Education program, Stawski does a deep dive into how to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into outdoor leadership. She also features stories by Kenji Haroutunian, Stacy Bare, Courtney Aber, Lily Durkee, Nikki Smith, Joe Stone, and others to provide additional perspectives and experiences that reinforce the message that there is no one right way to lead.

Whether you’re an outdoor professional or new to spending time in nature, you’ll draw inspiration from the wisdom of The Outdoor Leader.

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The Outdoor Leader

Jeannette Stawski


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Latasha Dunston



Excerpt from The Outdoor Leader

“Excerpted from The Outdoor Leader by Jeannette Stawski (March 2024). Published Mountaineers Books. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.”

In her upcoming book, The Outdoor Leader: Resilience, Integrity, and Adventure, author Jeannette Stawski explores the skillsets and techniques behind transformational, equitable leadership. Whether you’re an outdoor professional or new to spending time in nature, you’ll draw inspiration from the wisdom of The Outdoor Leader.


Fortitude, perseverance, and commitment require resilience and grit, and great leaders embody these qualities in spades. A great leader will gracefully handle the unforeseen situations, elements, and interpersonal issues that inevitably arise in the outdoors. A key understanding in these scenarios is differentiating an approach of “being tough” or “outlasting” challenging situations and people from establishing boundaries and cultivating toler­ance and reflection.


When we face challenges, we tend to rely on our gumption and confidence to get us through. And while many of these issues will resolve quickly, in other cases they may seem intractable and not worth the work. Regard­less, I like to take an approach of “outlasting” the problem, in which I take everyone’s needs into account and then craft a sustainable, long-term solution that relies on resilience.

Toughness Versus Resilience

In my mind, toughness has connotations of physically enduring some challenge. I am not the one to say who is or isn’t tough—summiting a peak or hiking to camp in record time is not always the right goal. As leaders, we want to open people’s minds to choose something they otherwise may not have tried before, but not to an extent that it would harm themselves, others, or the environment.

Toughness can be a destructive word if it sets a precedent an individual or the group feels obligated to follow during an outdoor experience. “Tough” might be someone who hiked with blistered feet or someone who bivouacked without a shelter. I’m not impressed by being “tough” like that because these situations are 100 percent preventable with proper planning, for example having broken-in boots and socks that eliminate friction and stopping to attend to hot spots with a first-aid kid; or bringing shelter and the right layers, and not getting separated from the group (not making it to the campsite).

Resilience, on the other hand, is a word I use to describe someone who has endured, or can endure, a challenging situation without putting others, themselves, or the environment at risk. Applying the lessons learned from a challenging situation to future situations is what resilience is all about. It is the capacity to grow from and learn from your experiences. Think about all the things you have worked on, or worked through, to improve yourself or create more opportunities for those around you. And think about the times you’ve worked passionately to help, most likely giving yourself fully, exhausting your stamina and resources all while being tempted to walk away.

You, and those you lead, are more mentally and emotionally resilient than you may first realize in a stressful situation. When we are near technology and creature comforts, we may spend more time avoiding issues than addressing them, but out in the field we may find we have deeper reservoirs than we ever imagined. Understanding the gravity of the situation and what will be required to move through it can help pace and give you perspective as you, or those you lead, tap into their resilience.

The Most Challenging Adversary Is You

If you choose to lead, you are choosing to be vulnerable. You have never been perfect, and you can’t make everything right for those who follow you. You may have insecurities as a leader, facing doubt about yourself and your capacity to participate and to lead.

It is so much easier not to start something new and not subject yourself to being a novice. It may be the first time you’ve gone car camping or the first time you’ve gone on a remote expedition. In these scenarios, we can all easily doubt our abilities, whether as leaders or participants. No one wants to be the last one to camp or to the top of the peak or off the boat. But the truth is someone has to be last—and the person who hikes the slowest may, in fact, surprise everyone and be the one who can go the longest. We are who we tell ourselves we can be.

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The Outdoor Leader

Book Contributors

Deidra Goodwin


Deidra Goodwin strives to facilitate people finding their personal definitions of "outdoorsy", "stewardship", and "leadership" one experience at a time. Deidra's passion is fostering the connections people make with themselves, each other, and their environments to make personal meaning and create change through reflection and intentional program design.


Jackie Ostfeld


Jackie has twenty years of professional leadership experience advancing inclusive campaigns and partnerships to secure a just, equitable, and livable planet for our children and future generations. She has secured major victories to expand outdoor access and equity by building the power to win meaningful and lasting policy changes through coalitions and grassroots leadership. She currently directs Sierra Club's Outdoors for All campaign, chairs the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), advises the Blue Sky Funders Forum, and resides in Washington, D.C. with her partner and two beautiful children.


Taldi Harrison


Taldi Harrison is REI’s director of community & government affairs. In this capacity she oversees REI’s government affairs work and policy related philanthropy. Her work focuses on fostering collaborative partnerships with national non-profit partners and decision makers at the federal, state, and local level to ensure equitable access to and infrastructure for inspiring outdoor recreation opportunities.


Meg Smith

Megan is a small business owner and systems thinker who, over a decade ago, became very interested in personal finances. She believes that by using ideas such as “small buckets”, automation, and systematically thinking about YOUR priorities and goals, your money will align with your desires and an abundant life will follow. What do you want to achieve? Together we will make it happen.


Joe Stone

Joe Stone is an experienced adaptive mountain biker and hiker. He has worked all over the country with trail crews, land management entities, mountain bike festivals, and other nonprofits that support people with disabilities. He is also an advocate for civil rights for people with disabilities and is well versed in the ADA, ABA, and the direction the disability community would like to see opportunities open up.


Kenji Haroutunian

Kenji Haroutunian is a 29-year veteran of the active outdoor recreation industry whose career spans specialty retail store management, experiential outdoor education and best-in-class event and team leadership. Over 8 years as a global trade show event director focused on outdoor recreation, Kenji has been recognized for both his specialty core business focus and creative ‘out of the box’ solutions in growing business for both the shows and the industry they serve.


Nikki Smith

For 20 years now, Nikki Smith has been a part of the vibrant Outdoor Industry. From iconic photography to soul-bearing writing to public speaking, graphic design, illustration, product design and more. Nikki's work has been used by companies large and small to help bring their thoughts and ideas to life.


Corey Fernandez

Corey Fernandez helps leaders and teams navigate change successfully and achieve meaningful results. Corey has guided over 1000 leaders and many of their teams throughout his 20-year career.


For half of his career, Corey led complex consulting engagements within Fortune 500 companies. His work spotlighted managers as the difference makers of their organizations and equipped them to become accelerants for strategic change.

Today, Corey’s a passionate leadership coach who loves to partner with executives who oversee strategic changes and the supporting casts of leaders tasked with execution. Corey builds one-on-one coaching relationships with executives and leads monthly group coaching forums for mid-level leaders from Michigan and beyond.


Karel Hilversum


Karel has been leading outdoor education programs for over 25 years. His career navigates the intersection of adventure education, organizational leadership, and diversity, equity, & inclusion with a particular focus on ways to increase the participation of underrepresented racial minorities and diverse groups in the outdoors.


Katherine Hollis


Katherine Hollis (she/her) considers herself one of the lucky ones – her parents had her adventuring in nature before she could walk. This connection to the outdoors continues through more than twenty years of work catalyzing authentic connections to create sustainable, impactful solutions for people and the natural world. Katherine is currently executive director of Eastrail Partners, the nonprofit unifying and catalyzing the vision for a fully connected 42-mile Eastrail.

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Sarah Harper Burke


A transformative leader with a digital-first mindset, Sarah Harper Burke is an outdoor industry marketing professional having lead strategy for brands such as Osprey Packs, Vail Resorts and Shimano.  Her focus is building high-performing teams that support scaling business to their next stages of revenue growth by increasing demand thru premium content, digital optimization and dealer engagement.


Jessica Wahl Turner

Jessica (Wahl) Turner is the first President of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), America’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation associations and organizations. Under her leadership, ORR has connected all segments of the outdoor recreation economy to pass historical legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act and achieve millions of dollars in funding for public lands, waters and rural gateway communities. Jessica has over a decade of experience navigating the halls of The White House, Department of the Interior (DOI), Capitol Hill, state recreation offices and outdoor lifestyle businesses.


Hannah Malvin

Hannah is a coach and consultant with more than a decade of experience working in Congress, nonprofits, community organizing, and consulting. She's focused on making work more equitable, effective, and enjoyable. She offers staff retreats, workshops, and  individual coaching and has worked with Congressional offices, federal agencies, nonprofits, foundations, and fortune 500 companies.


Abby Rowe


Abby has spent over 25 years working as an outdoor educator and has more recently worked as an Advanced EMT and as a wilderness medicine instructor for WMA International. In 2021, Abby became the owner and president of Wilderness Medical Associates International, which remains one of the leading providers in wilderness medicine education. Abby is passionate about the transformational power of wilderness programming and preparing responsible and qualified outdoor facilitators.


Lily Durkee

Lily is a co-founder of Diversify Whitewater and is currently a PhD student in Ecology at Colorado State University and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She started kayaking at the age of 9 at Valley Mill Camp near Washington, DC, which launched a lifetime love of whitewater. She competed nationally and internationally in whitewater slalom from the ages of 12-17 and has since enjoyed teaching kids at Valley Mill and kayaking recreationally. In total, she has 15 years of kayaking experience, including 5 years of racing and 7 years of teaching. The idea for Diversify Whitewater was born from her desire to share her passion for paddling with other BIPOC.


Kayden Will


Kayden Will is a learning specialist and off-campus program director at Proctor Academy, an independent boarding school in New Hampshire, where she helps students with a range of learning profiles to become active and empowered lifelong learners. Whether in a classroom, a campsite, or a committee, she continues to practice the leadership and listening skills she gained working as a field instructor and program administrator for NOLS and several other organizations. 


Stacy Bare

Stacy Bare is a husband, father, and often falls while playing outside on his bike, skis, or paddle board.  He served in the Army, was stationed in Germany, and spent time in Bosnia, Iraq, Angola, and Abkhazia.  He has climbed in Angola, led the first recorded expedition to ski the tallest mountain in Iraq, and has skied in Kyrgyzstan, Japan, and Afghanistan. He is currently the Executive Director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks in Jeannette's hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Victoria Lopez-Herrera


Victoria Lopez-Herrera is a compassionate disrupter. She has a passion for women's empowerment, social justice issues, and advocacy for underrepresented students which has guided her work in Higher Education for over 20 years. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education, Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, and NIRSA Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.


Elyse Rylander


Elyse Rylander (she/her) is an educator, facilitator, consultant, connector, builder and leader in the Outdoor Recreation Economy. In her [limited] downtime she can be found chasing after her daughter, paddling a boat, pedaling a bike or passionately arguing the superiority of Wisconsin cheese.

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Russ Watts


Russ is a transformational leadership coach, an integral facilitator, a team coach, team builder and health & wellness coach who has spent the last 30+ years working with individuals and teams on personal and collaborative performance worldwide.  Russ works with his clients to develop leadership awareness for the betterment of themselves, their communities, and institutions.  Beyond coaching and facilitating, he finds adventure in activities such as paragliding, ultra trail running, and kayaking, while also indulging in photography and sailing with his family.


Courtney Aber


Courtney Aber is the National Director of the YMCA’s BOLD & GOLD program which brings youth from different racial and economic backgrounds together to build self-confidence, community awareness, and a sense of wonder for the natural world through outdoor experiences. Scaling throughout the US, BOLD & GOLD’s innovative model uses the outdoors as a tool in positive youth development and Social Emotional Learning while bridging divides in the world.  Previously, Courtney was the Education Director for a hands-on maritime center where she focused on strategy and partnerships.  She has been running outdoor programs in various capacities since 1992 and continues to be amazed at the power of the outdoors to change lives and to bring out the best in people. She has a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in the Methow Valley in Washington State.


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