How I Became a Leader With Less Than a Week of Training

I know what you’re thinking, “Less than a week of training? That’s insane!” I would have to disagree, a week is perfectly reasonable when it’s something you’re passionate about. For me, this was being a leader for Project Peak.

When I entered college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I was able to get into a program to help students transition into college, Project Peak. Project Peak is specifically a week-long camping trip for incoming freshmen to George Mason University. They help students transition into college, learn more about what they want to get out of college, and gain some outdoor skills. It was on that trip that I realized I wanted to improve myself and gain leadership skills, like my Project Peak Trip Leaders.

So I applied to become a trip leader for the program and was accepted. It was a long interview process, and I felt incredibly nervous. I felt that I showed I was too nervous, but I did the interview with four department heads at once, and they said I didn’t seem nervous at all and showed good public speaking skills and the ability to quickly adapt and be creative. It was about an hour-long interview, and I felt as if I was bombing it, but the department heads said I excelled at it. When it comes to interviews, go in with confidence and realize that if you feel nervous, it’s just in your head.

Less Than a Week of Training

This brings me to the training portion of the program. The department heads in charge of Project Peak specifically hire driven people who are willing to put in long hours. You are expected to be able to finish your certifications and training in under a week. This meant from 7 am to 9 pm I did nothing but dedicate myself to learning everything that goes into being a trip leader for Project Peak. Everything from learning wilderness survival and safety skills, to getting first aid and CPR certification, to learning social and communication skills, how to utilize tools such as Excel and Google Calendar, and more. There’s a lot of skills required to be a trip leader, and they’re all skills I still find myself using to this day.

If you’re leading an outdoor camping trip, having first aid certification is completely necessary. It’s not a skill that’s easily transferable to other professions, but in the case of a medical emergency, I know what to do. Going beyond that, the training taught me about being a leader in today’s society. Going the extra mile and learning something new to better yourself and your ability to do a job makes you far more prepared in case you ever have to use those skills.

Being able to effectively communicate with my other team members and the students is easily the most important skill I learned during that week of training. 

Before I went to college I was incredibly introverted and meek. I was far too terrified to ask other people for help or to enter into discussions because I was afraid that my ideas wouldn’t be good enough. 

This is not productive in a work environment, so I made it my mission that training week to continually put myself out there with my ideas. Doing this also helped me get to know and understand my team members. I found that one of the keys to effective communication is confidence, which leads to more discussion about our plans and ideas being talked about. 

Building off of that confidence helps you to be clear and concise with what you’re talking about and planning to do. When communications are ambiguous, far too much falls into the cracks.

By simply being more confident in my abilities and being more clear, I noticed I had become more approachable to my team members. I became able to effectively hold hour-long planning sessions and talk with the students about the trip plus whatever popped up that they needed to talk about. Being able to read into what my students were thinking and realizing when their morale was low led me to be able to effectively lead them, maintain and even raise their morale.

Something else I had to quickly learn how to use and then implement was being able to use a variety of online tools to plan and operate the camping trip. I had to become knowledgeable in Excel to properly track the student’s information, meal plans, food budget, venue information, supplies, emergency plans, and overall budget. I had to do this in conjunction with Google Calendar for our schedule to make sure everything lined up correctly. There’s a lot of planning and logistics that go into trip planning, and those are skills that are easily transferable to operating businesses. To this day I still use my knowledge in Excel to keep track of inventory and sales in the bar I work at, and in my personal use tracking my tips and my financial budget. 

On top of everything, there’s the amount of work that has to go into searching for venues, supplies, and deals. Constantly having to compare prices on many websites and calling people to find out details about events and locations, in addition to making sure that everyone on the team is informed of that information. Ultimately it led me to realize how important it is to maintain and stay under budget and how that duty falls upon the leader.

The Application of My Knowledge

Now the question is: did all of that training ultimately bear any fruit? 

I was a trip leader for Project Peak for three years and every year we had a successful trip and increased the number of campers. The sub-group I was in charge of would continually beat the other groups in competitions during the events. Going beyond that, those groups all had higher grades and campus engagement, in which they successfully became leaders and involved in the campus, when compared to the other groups. I’m incredibly proud of all I accomplished there and that I bore quite a lot of fruit.

I’m incredibly grateful for all that I learned as a Project Peak trip leader. I learned many invaluable skills such as being able to coordinate and manage events and workers, an understanding of communication and social skills, the knowledge to utilize and quickly understand online tools. It’s due to my quick learning of these skills that I became an effective leader who still uses these skills today to accomplish my goals.

These are skills everyone can gain and become proficient in, all it takes is some dedication and finding what your passion is. Just like how I found my passion in leading others and coordinating events and operations.

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