I’ve been leading and facilitating the Leading From Within outdoor experiential program for over twenty years. As I seriously contemplate retirement, I wanted to pass on one of the very cool traditions from this program around hiking sticks that you or your organization may want to incorporate into future retreats.
I should mention that the hiking stick concept I’m about to explain works best for multi-day retreats or programs that include team development and outdoor activities. That’s because the symbolism of the hiking stick coincides nicely with teams and leadership principles. In our case, Leading From Within is a three-day program on authentic leadership, usually held up in the Colorado mountains, with a typical group size of 12 to 18 participants. And, as you might imagine, we utilize the outdoor classroom for everything from group to solo hikes to a plethora of team building activities.
Here’s how we use the hiking sticks
We pre-purchase hiking sticks, based on the number of participants, and incorporate the cost into our program supplies budget. Fortunately for us, the ranch where we do most of our programs in Colorado makes their own hiking sticks from the surrounding aspen trees that populate their resort. With that said, we’ve also purchased walking sticks in lieu of hiking sticks whenever we’ve done this program in other parts of the country where we are not in the mountains. It really doesn’t matter.
Then, on day one of the program, we welcome participants with an initiation activity with the following components:
- We present each person with their own hiking stick.
- With hiking stick in hand, we ask each participant to introduce themselves to the group, sharing specific things about themselves that we asked them to share.
- We then provide paint markers and colored tape and ask participants to personalize their hiking sticks as they see fit.
- And lastly, we do a signing ceremony where participant sign each other’s hiking stick, using the paint markers.
After this initiation activity, we don’t formally utilize these sticks again until we do a group hike the following day, where we ask participants to bring their sticks with them.
Then, on the final day…and as part of the closing activity, we have a group discussion on the purpose and symbolism of the hiking sticks.
Here are some of the obvious points that have been made over the years:
- The stick represents leadership and vision, as it leads the way on a hike or walk.
- The stick represents support and stability, especially while going over challenging terrain.
- The names on the stick represents the support and significance of the people that came together for this shared experience and will continue to do so every time the hiking stick is used in the future.
- The names on the stick also represent the importance of each leader having a support system in place, as no one can lead along.
You get the idea.
Many participants have continued to add names on their hiking stick when they returned home, be it family, friends, or coworkers back at work. Others have displayed their sticks in their offices so that they can always return to the experience just by simply glancing over at it. Either way, I think it’s clear that these hiking sticks continue to serve a meaningful purpose well after the program.
For me personally, I love my hiking stick and all the names that line every part of it. It’s a constant reminder of all the people that have touched my life through the Leading From Within program. Just looking at brings back such powerful and emotional memories.
So, that’s the hiking stick idea. Feel free to steal it, tweak it, or use it any way you like. It’s my gift to you.
-Greg “Geese” Giesen
Founder and Lead Facilitator of Leading From Within
P.S. Although I have stopped doing the outdoor version of this program, I’m more than happy to brainstorm with you how to incorporate the hiking stick into your next retreat. Have your people call my people.