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Published 15 August 2012 05:27, Updated 15 August 2012 11:37
Anyone who has had enough of tantrums at work might dream of sending the offenders off into the wilderness for a week or two, hoping for a transformation from office ogre to human being.
There’s something about being in the quiet of nature, sleeping in tents and eating simple food after a day of physical challenge that brings out the best in people. Nature provides a reset button to encourage us to see life from a different, more relaxed, perspective.
It seems unbelievably silly when you are abseiling down a cliff into rainforest to be getting emotional about work issues that usually are inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things.
Even for those without major personality defects, an adventure in nature can bring lasting benefits, leadership and talent director at Lee Hecht Harrison DBM, psychologist Travis Kemp, says.
But the challenge is to make the changes stick. Sending employees out for a week’s “jolly” without any follow-up means that gains made in teamwork and personal growth may fade away when they get back to their normal environments.
For instance, when wayward teenagers are sent away to a “brat camp” or Outward Bound sort of experience, they need follow-up support to make sure they don’t slip back into bad habits when they return home.
“There’s been a lot of letting go and dropping of barriers and they [the teenagers] become vulnerable, and then they get plonked back into the environment they came from,” Kemp says. “You are actually doing them a disservice.
“How do we maintain that transformation?”
The answer, for employees, can be executive coaching as a way to embed the changes, a process that can have a profound impact on the way they relate to others at work and at home.
According to research, views of nature have a calming effect when we have been stressed (but nature films do not have the same effect). Stressed people who are sent on a nature walk will have more focus and attention than those who have been sent on a walk down city streets.
Sometimes it can take days for people to acclimatise to being in nature. “Some people have never slept on the ground, never slept in a tent and never been into the wilderness,” Kemp says.
“This can produce anxiety. You are reducing things to basic human needs. There’s nothing to do except to be present. You have to be mindful because there is nothing else happening.
“This is scary for some people who are used to running from one 30-minute appointment to another.
“But after three or four days, people will have gone through different phases of reflection and they will start to get some really interesting insights into what they have become and how they present themselves to the world.
“It is a liberating process for a lot of people”.
Kemp is the presenter of a four-part television series, called Do or Die, which follows groups of employees who go bush. It will screen at 8.30pm on Wednesdays on ABC2 from September 12.
When those teams experience nature and challenge together, hierarchies are broken down and leadership can emerge from unexpected people.
“They are forced to relate to each other at a human level, rather than an organisational level.”
People, whose behaviour can be difficult at work can find themselves exposed when they are lost in the bush and they have to make decisions that have an immediate impact.
“The consequences of your difficult behaviour are immediate and it is really in-your-face,” says Kemp.
“There’s nowhere to run and hide. You can’t chuck people out of your office because you don’t want to listen to them any more.
“The most successful leaders are the ones who can cope with that terror and still lead in the face of it.”