Paul Spackman reflects on two expeditions thirteen years apart

Photography by Lee Kearns

As I reflect on my most recent trip to the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan, I remember saying as I flew out of Kabul in 2006 following a deployment in the British Infantry ‘you could never pay me enough money to return here’.  How wrong I was and how narrowly I saw the world 13 years ago disturbs me a little now.

This recent trip, guiding nine fantastic clients with fellow expedition leader, Rich Gentry, on behalf of Secret Compass has redefined my view of Afghanistan and provided me with a fantastic opportunity to reflect on my leadership style. Whilst the risks, the needs of the team and the final objectives of this trip were somewhat different to a military deployment, I found that the leadership tools I have developed served me well. Those skills developed on operations in the Army, the style I evolved in corporate leadership roles and the mountain leadership knowledge all share threads of commonality.

Those threads, coupled with the influence of ten incredible characters in this beautiful place has, without doubt, improved me as a leader and as a human being. So, here are five leadership qualities I’ve reflected on since my return.

Care to lead. Worry about those you are trying to lead. Worry about the risks they face. Worry about how they feel. Understand what it is that motivates them, help them overcome the challenges beyond the task in hand. Tape up their blistered feet (literally and metaphorically). Let them care for you, let them understand your motivations. Be kind, be fair and serve their needs above your own.

Lead from the front or the back but be sure to set the example. Your leadership can set the tone of any adventure or project. It’s not just your example that matters, the behaviour or performance of a team will be defined by the worst behaviour or performance that a leader is willing to tolerate. Be inclusive, encourage tolerance and honesty, and celebrate differences.

Trust your moral compass and have courage in your convictions. Something I was reminded of whilst crossing dangerous rivers in an extremely remote location. If you make a decision, stick to it (not in an immovable way) and have faith that your judgement is sound. Constantly flick-flacking between a decision creates uncertainty in the team and ultimately they will lose trust in your direction and expect constant change, which will eventually lead to inertia and a lack of motivation. So, pick a plan and run with it.

Encourage and celebrate success. Not just ultimate success but remember the little successes of individuals and sub-teams that contribute to the overall objective. Step aside and credit the team in success but step up and accept responsibility in defeat or failure. Every now and again, do a little private dance to celebrate your own success when the team prevails.

Finally, know your weaknesses. Know your gaps in knowledge, accept that you will get tired, you will make mistakes. You are only human.

Find our more about our Afghanistan expedition here.