Thank you to the following people who contributed ideas and content to this resource;

If you’ve got more ideas or advice to contribute to this resource, then please get in touch.  We also encourage you to check out the companion resources and articles; 

Trips are the raison d’etre of our clubs, and without a plan to ensure new leaders are developed, the very fabric of our clubs could be at risk. We asked a few clubs and organisations to get a snapshot of the situation at present and to understand how they are trying to tackle the challenges that face them.

FMC hopes that club presidents, chief guides and trip leaders take the time to read through this resource, and take a good look at how their own club is doing, with a view to formulating a plan to address any issues.

Its a pretty big resource, so here’s the outline upfront of what we’re covering.

  • Why do people lead club trips?
  • How do we identify potential leaders?
    • Members who already want to volunteer as leaders
    • Senior members who should be giving back to the club
    • Newer members with potential who don’t realise it or believe in themselves.
  • Why do people stop leading trips?
  • What club structures need to be put in place to promote leader development?
    • Establish the position of Chief guide
    • Establish an Induction process for new leaders
    • Encourage mentoring of less experienced leaders
    • Encourage learning opportunities between leaders who are peers
    • Provide development opportunities for all leaders
    • Reach out to neighbouring clubs for leadership training opportunities
    • Regularly check in with all leaders
    • Keep leader resources updated and user friendly
  • How to develop a club culture that supports the retention of leaders?
    • Ensure leaders really feel appreciated
    • Develop a sense of pride and connection among leaders
    • Set clear expectations of leaders and of support from the club
    • Set an example of good followership
  • It’s worth the effort


Why do people lead club trips?

It’s a certain type of person that will volunteer to put time and effort into being responsible for facilitating the enjoyment of others. It’s a relatively small proportion of the population, but all of those people have some intrinsic motivation for what they do.

It’ll be different for everyone, and figuring out what that motivation is and providing support that nurtures it is the key to retaining and developing that leader within the club. Some themes from the clubs we interviewed include;

  • “Because I’ve received help from others in the past and I want to pay it forward”
  • “I get satisfaction out of helping other people have a good time”
  • “I like it when others look to me for information or guidance”
  • “I enjoy the sense of authority and responsibility”
  • “I love seeing people learn the skills that I have to teach them”
  • “I enjoy feeling appreciated by my mentors as well as those I’ve helped”
  • “Because I have the skills and experience, and no one else is doing it, so I’d better volunteer!”

How do we identify potential leaders?

Identifying suitable leaders is the first step in maintaining a healthy pool of club leaders. This identification is best made by the senior members of the club; the leaders and committee members.

These senior members should always be on the lookout for new club leaders and the best time is whilst on trips. Being in the hills often gives you a good look into who people really are, especially if the trip is a challenging one. Give opportunities for responsibility (can you please be the tail-end charlie? Can you please sort dinner out, or be in charge erecting the tents?) and you’ll quickly see who rises to those small challenges.

It’s important to aim most of your energy into people who show sufficient motivation toward the club and club trips. Even if they aren’t the fittest, or most capable members, they will be more likely to want to invest in the club and give something back.

Members who already want to volunteer as leaders

People who self-identify as wishing to become leaders should be actively supported into the club’s leader training and development system. However, not all people who think they should be leaders are going to be suitable; self confidence doesn’t equal self competence.

By all means, don’t knock the enthusiasm of a volunteer, but manage them appropriately so their wish to volunteer is satisfied, and they are given the appropriate responsibility which matches their ability.

Sometimes when a person’s self assessment of skill exceeds reality, you’ll need to actively manage that person.  A good tactic is to create situations where that person is put as a ‘co-leader’ with a much more competent person. You can sell it to them as a great opportunity to learn from this really experienced leader.  Giving the senior leader a heads up and ask them to allow the co-leader to manage situations above their actual skill level. This should achieve two things; that it becomes more obvious to the co-leader that their skills are actually lower than they think, and that it gives a perfect opportunity to bring those skills up to match the expectations, under the guidance of the senior leader.

Senior members who should be giving back to the club

Sometimes there are members who’ve been around the traps many times who are always the followers and never the leader.

These folk often shy away from leadership for various reasons, but it’s worth considering a shoulder tap and a quiet word: perhaps it’s about time they gave back to the club and helped out with leading trips.  They will have usually more skill and experience than they realise. People who have personal reasons to shy away from leadership might be more willing to take on a co-leadership role.

WTMC encourages leaders to split responsibility if appropriate. Sometimes, they find people who want to help with the routine organising tasks before a trip, but don’t really like being up in front of the group, or making decisions in the hills. And vice versa; some who are excellent at leading in the field are less comfortable behind a computer.

Rather than specifically a mentor and co-leader, this approach caters to the individual strengths of the volunteers, and with joint leadership, at least each leader will get exposed more to the strengths of the other leader, to aid in their own development.

Newer members with potential who don’t realise it or believe in themselves.

It’s usually pretty easy to identify new members who have potential, but they might be unsure of their own skills, or feel like they don’t have enough mana or status in the club to lead other members.

A new person with leadership potential is going to be a more effective leader than a member who has been around for years who just isn’t interested in leadership.

These folks will need more encouragement and support to get going. Tell them what you see in them, assure them of the opportunities and support the club can offer and check back in regularly as they progress through the club’s leader development program.

Why do people stop leading trips?

Every leader accrues their own goodwill for volunteering at a certain rate. Each activity they put effort into is a withdrawal from that goodwill balance, but it gets topped up with the satisfaction gained from those activities.  

If people lead trips at a reasonable frequency, and have positive experiences then the goodwill balance will build or at least remain healthy over time.

But it only takes a few too many trips a year, or a few negative experiences and the balance will trend down, eventually going into overdraft and that’s when people stop.

Some leaders say they’re sick of being the leader ‘every’ time they go on a trip, and would welcome a chance to be a participant. Many feel that their efforts aren’t appreciated enough, and that they are a bit over getting stuck with some of the less glamorous tasks of leadership.

Some clubs suggested there has been a shift in the perception towards clubs and organised activities. Recently, they suggest that if an activity is ‘official’ in some way, then participants have more of an expectation that they will receive a service or an experience, especially if the activity has some cost attributed to it. This is at odds with the traditional culture that membership of the club construed belonging to a community of peers.

In other clubs, there has been a fairly open policy of allowing non-members to come along on trips, or removing any ‘commitment’ barriers to joining the club (like going on a few trips before hand, being recommended by a member etc). Whilst these sort of policies no doubt have made membership more welcoming, it appears an possible unintended consequence has been short term visitors using the club as a cheap guiding service. Or perhaps this is just a commentary on societal change in general. Those visitors turn up out of the blue, do one trip then disappear without ever contributing anything to the club, which irks some leaders “We’re volunteering for the benefit of the club members, not as unpaid tramping guides for visitors..”  But on the other hand, who better to set an example of how to behave in our wild places, than the very people who hold them in the highest regard?

What club structures need to be put in place to promote leader development?

Establish the position of Chief guide

Among other responsibilities, a chief guide should oversee support of club leaders and assist with their development. They would be a person with sufficient experience and mana within the club to judge whether certain people were suitable for leadership, or for leading certain trips.

Establish an Induction process for new leaders

Most clubs will have established procedures and policies around leadership and safety.

Some clubs, such as WTMC, have an annual leader training program, which is organised by the Training Coordinator supported by the Chief guide.  Club members who are shoulder tapped get priority, but there is a general open invitation to the wider club. The training program consists of a weekday evening session, about the club policies and resources, followed by a weekend practical activity in the nearby ranges. Especially if you pick a more obscure location for your training activity, you will make that more enticing for the potential trainees.

This training program only runs once a year, and it is not a strict prerequisite for leading a WTMC trip, but leaders are encouraged to attend the next training activity if they missed out initially.

TTC doesn’t have a regular leader induction program, but instead schedules “Leadership days” when there appears to be a demand for it.  The club spends most of a day at it’s club rooms, explaining club policies, hearing from guest speakers on leadership and running practical activities on leadership scenarios.

OTMC reported that they tried just a week night session without a follow up weekend activity. Attendance wasn’t great, so they now just do the club policy training on a case by case basis.

So the way you offer your training depends on the size of your club, and what sort of life/work arrangements are common within your pool of trainee leaders. Each club will already know what works for timing and duration of club events, but the key point is to schedule something that will pique the interest of the people you’re targeting, make it regular on your club calendar and make it sustainable for whomever has to run it.

Encourage mentoring of less experienced leaders

Although practical training activities are the main method for teaching ‘hard’ outdoor skills like navigation, campcraft, river fording etc, mentoring is a superior method to develop the soft leadership skills like communication, team building and group management.

Make it part of your new leader training/induction policy, that they are supported and encouraged to find a mentor. The best mentor-mentee relationships are borne of mutual respect; you usually can’t just assign someone a mentor, they almost need to choose one another.

The chief guide would ideally have a sit down chat with the two of them to explain how the mentoring goes, and to make it clear who is responsible at what times on a trip. This expectation is important; no one likes uncertainty over who is ‘in charge’ if things get tricky.

If the concept of mentoring sounds intimidating, another way of couching the same concept is through ‘shadowing’.  A new leader will be encouraged to go on a trip with an experienced leader, sticking close to her/him to watch how they manage the role.  The chief guide should encourage them to have catch up chats around camp at the end of the day, or over a beer or cuppa straight after the trip.

Or you could consider it ‘co-leading’ where there is a junior and senior leader.  However it is couched, the result is creating quality opportunities for leadership knowledge to be passed down within the club.

Depending on how the new leader is going, they might benefit from having that same experienced leader come along ‘just in case’ on a trip or two.  Some folks will really appreciate having a back-stop if things go awry, but there’s nothing like taking the training wheels off and going solo to build self confidence.  Just make sure that you’re confident the new leader is ready for it; being chucked in the deep end, or when you’re not ready doesn’t always end up with a positive result for all people…

Encourage learning opportunities between leaders who are peers

Although leaders are often scarce, it can really be beneficial for leaders to go on trips as participants or co-leaders to learn how the others do it. Not only does this give a great opportunity to develop that followership culture, but also to learn from one another, and give feedback on good (and bad) habits that they’ve notice.

Some clubs offer mid-week activities for members who are retired, or work flexible schedules. Often, the people in these groups are the ones with the greatest collective knowledge. If those people only spend time with one another, and don’t go on trips with the ‘weekend warrior’ members with Monday-Friday jobs, how will that knowledge be effectively passed on?  

The chief guide will have the challenge of developing a culture among leaders of openness and willingness to accept feedback. The best method is by setting the example, where the chief guide asks for feedback about their leadership at the end of a trip from other leaders or participants. Or having senior leaders publically ask for information from less senior members about a trip they recently did, which the senior leader would like to do.

Provide development opportunities for all leaders

Encourage and assist leaders to select trips that are within their capability, but will provide a challenge for them. It could be in terms of length of trip, or difficulty, or perhaps stepping up to being a coordinator for a larger group heading away for several different trips from the same road end. It’s important to get people occasionally stepping outside their comfort zone; it’s the only way that we learn and develop any skill.

It is common that there might not always be enough knowledge within a club of the higher level skills needed to lead more technical activities. With this in mind, some clubs financially support leaders to attend training courses, so those leaders can then pass on the knowledge gained to members on club activities. Not only does this help the club run more types of trips, but it also motivates the leaders, and anyone who might be considering becoming a leader.

In bigger and busier clubs, it’s important to allow the developing leaders sufficient opportunity to gain experience. When the club trip list looks pretty full, new leaders might be discouraged from thinking they’re needed.  Take the time to check in with these leaders and ensure a good progression to keep new leaders coming through the ranks.

Reach out to neighbouring clubs for leadership training opportunities

Perhaps other clubs are running leadership or skills courses that your leaders could join in on. Perhaps the opportunity to send leaders on trips with other clubs can lead to new and improved ways of doing things, plus if the neighbouring club is a reasonable distance away, there’s a good chance the trip will be enticingly in a new area for your leader.

In particular, it appears that club leadership courses are not particularly frequent, it’s well worth considering asking to join another club’s course (and allowing other club members on your course) to make opportunities available in a timely fashion.  Most clubs we spoke to seemed open to the idea of allowing other club leaders onto their courses, provided they came with an official recommendation/request from the other club.

WTMC was once approached by another club to run a snowcraft course. The weekend went ahead successfully, and was enjoyed by the instructors and appreciated by the other club.

Outdoor Training NZ organised regional assessment and training weekends for it’s bushcraft instructors, with 5 separate branches converging on Tongariro National Park. The Taranaki branch extended an invitation to other regions to attend its own instructor development weekends. Although there was a bit more effort involved in the organisation and travel, all the attendees seemed to get a lot more out of the event through the cross-pollination of ideas from other regions.

In particular, several clubs have provided subsidised 1st Aid courses for leaders, but these courses were not always fully booked; A perfect opportunity to reach out to other clubs in the local area to see if they have leaders who need such training.  

Regularly check in with all leaders

Newer leaders will need more frequent chats to ensure they are happy and progressing well. Make sure that you still talk to the more senior leaders,as they will be the ones who will be supporting the club culture changes that we’ve suggested.

Ensuring that leaders feel as though the club cares about them will help identify when they might be nearing the limit of their goodwill, or to raise potential issues before they become a problem.

Keep leader resources updated and user friendly

Develop and maintain clear club policies on leader responsibilities, with guidance and checklists. Established leaders might not need to refer to them often, but for any leader who is a little unsure as they are learning, such documents can really help support their development.

The resources should be clear on club policy, around what they must do and what they should do when organising and leading a trip. Keep them as brief and as clear as possible, and follow up with leaders who seem to be forgetting to do the mandatory things. Not everyone wants to read through long manuals or documents, but it is important that leaders are aware of the policies, procedures and resources. Whether a club makes it mandatory for leaders to attend some form of training that explains club procedures is up to the club. However, leaving it up to the leader to track down the manual and find out for themselves is a hit and miss strategy at best.

Checklists are really handy for peace of mind when organising a trip.  Also consider summarising the policies and guidance into a brief aide-memoire, which can be referred to quickly on the go. Remember, it’s all about providing the best support and making the job for the leaders as easy and enjoyable as possible.

WTMC’s leader manual includes a number of common scenarios and guidance to deal with those situations; how to manage a group when there is a minor injury, when someone is too slow (or too fast) or when there is a personality clash in a group. It also explains the different styles of leadership, depending on the nature of the trip. Easier trips tend to have less experienced participants, and although they should seek input and collaboration, they generally operate with more independence and authority. Conversely, on harder trips, the participant skill levels are (should be!) closer to the leaders, and a more collaborative leadership style is more appropriate.

The OTMC has a pretty comprehensive set of leader resources which are publically available; You can find TTC’s resources online too. as well as WTMC’s here  and also a PDF refresher presentation prior to a leaders course

Many other clubs have similar sets of documents which you can draw inspiration from.

Ask around your club mates and other outdoor friends to see what other resources they have found online which can offer useful advice on leadership. These will often plant seeds of knowledge which can be grown through mentoring and experience within the club.


How to develop a club culture that supports the retention of leaders?

Ensure leaders really feel appreciated

Making sure those who give lots to the club feel as though they are given sufficient appreciation is vital to a healthy club culture.

Most clubs do some fundraising, and one area that is often money well spent is in leader development. See if your committee will agree to subsidising a first aid course or refresher for some of the leaders.  Consider financially supporting those leaders to get some professional training, especially for those who lead technical trips or club courses. As with many gestures of thanks, the thought can be as valuable as the actual gesture.  People really do respond if the club takes a practical step to demonstrate their appreciation. Make a point of telling the club how it has supported certain leaders; it might provide a little extra motivation for others to step up.

Some clubs provide other leader perks, such as free or preferential use of club gear, or huts. If you do consider such perks, just make sure you have a bit of a policy so that the perks are distributed fairly amongst those that deserve them.

WTMC provides Pizza to leaders who turn up to the club trip planning evenings. Apparently free food is an excellent motivator for attendance.

It seems commonplace that someone will be nominated to thank a speaker at a club night, perhaps with a small gift. But for some reason those thank you’s often get missed at the end of a trip. As a leader, make a point of having a quick debrief back at the cars before you shoot off. You’ll probably find that someone will take that chance to offer a decent thank you.  (And when you’re a participant, make sure you do say thanks in front of the group!)

Although thank you’s are great, actions speak louder than words. Perhaps consider encouraging a club culture of stopping in for a bite to eat or a cuppa on the way home from a trip. Tell the leader to take a seat, and go buy them a drink, or a bowl of chips or something. It doesn’t have to be much, but that small gesture really goes a long way for most people.

Make sure that there are regular opportunities to thank leaders in front of the wider club membership. Some clubs start a club night with a summary of the club trips that occurred since the last meeting; a perfect chance to publicly thank the leaders of those trips. Or make a point of thanking leaders in the club newsletters.

And at the end of year functions, the president would often give a bit of a speech, and rightly will give thanks to all those who made the club succeed for the year.

Develop a sense of pride and connection among leaders

Clubs succeed when the members feel a strong sense of belonging and community.  The same is true for subsets of the membership. The club should be encouraging leaders to feel connected to other leaders. They should feel pride in the service they give to the club, and satisfied with the trust the club has in them as leaders.

The club should consider ways to get leaders together occasionally, both to show the club’s appreciation, but also to encourage connection between leaders.

As mentioned before, WTMC arranges club trip card planning nights, where leaders are tempted with Pizza.  Although it’s disguised as a way of filling the trip card, it’s an invaluable time for leaders to talk with other leaders and feel part of that leadership team.

Thankfully, serious incidents are uncommon, but it is an important learning and healing method to have debriefs after such events.

Debriefs directly within the party concerned are important, and depending on the severity of the incident, may be best done with an independent facilitator, or even a psychologist.

The club should be encouraging debriefs with all leaders of club incidents and near misses at a regular interval. These will often happen informally at meetings and between members, but having a forum where they can be properly discussed and learnings identified is a highly valuable method of developing judgment as a leader.  Having these debriefs with the other leaders can help strengthen the leader pool; it is so valuable to know that other leaders are human and that others support you if something has gone wrong on one of your trips.

The occasional evening is easy to get people along to, but if you’re considering larger activities just for leaders, make sure you do your homework about what those leaders need, and make it enticing for them to attend. An activity that flops due to lack of support is almost worse than no activity at all.

Set clear expectations of leaders and of support from the club

People generally appreciate knowing where they stand, and clarity in the expectations placed upon them.

Ensuring the responsibilities of both leaders and participants is articulated, both in documentation and in the lead up to a trip is vital to manage expectations.  Some leaders can be apprehensive of the responsibilities of safety and enjoyment of a trip. Make it clear (on the trip card, at club talks and pre-trip communications) that individuals are in fact responsible for their own safety, and that it is part of the social contract between participant and leader on an amatuer club activity.  Not only that, but rather than being a ‘passenger’ who is essentially being guided, set the minimum expectation among participants that they are part of the team and expected to contribute to the trip.

Support your leaders when they need to make difficult decisions. If there is a person that a leader does not wish to have on the trip (whether for fitness, skill or personality reasons) make sure the leader feels that they can call on the club for support to say no. This could either be getting the chief guide to have a quiet word to the individual beforehand, or the committee standing behind the leader if the declined member becomes disgruntled.

The same goes for most leadership decisions; it’s nearly impossible to please everyone all of the time, and leaders need to feel that if they make the best decision they can with the information they have at the time, that the club will stand behind them.

Set an example of good followership

The easiest group to lead is one that is full of good followers. And the best followers are ones who want to show respect and courtesy for the leaders effort by making the leaders job as easy as possible.

Among many things, a good follower listens to the leader when they have something to say.  Good followers turn up on time, with the right gear, and ask questions well in advance. They show initiative to get the billy on, sweep the hut floor or do the dishes without being asked. When it comes to navigation or decision making, they want to be involved and want to learn.  At the end of the trip, they will help put gear away, clean out the van, offer to write a trip report, or send through some photos.

And how do you develop good followers? By senior members setting a good example, and asking others to follow suit. This is where leaders can really help one another. Especially when they are not the official leader on that particular trip, using those leadership skills to model and encourage good followership will pay dividends over time when it is next their turn to be the official leader. Be a good role model and tell people what you are doing and why.

Those folks shouldn’t be afraid to have a ‘quiet word’ with any trip members who aren’t being good followers. Just make sure the quiet word is in private. It’s always easier to hear that kind of feedback from a peer, rather than feel like it’s a telling-off from the leader. Don’t forget, if no one ever gives feedback, that behaviour will be likely to keep on perpetuating!

If you can create a culture of good followership, then your leaders will find it that much easier and enjoyable to lead the trips, and create an environment where new leaders are far more likely to succeed and volunteer again.

It’s worth the effort

Developing good leaders for clubs takes time and effort, but it is the core fabric that allows a club to get it’s members out the door and into the mountains, and needs to be high on the list of priorities for clubs if they wish to ensure a bright future.

Thank you to the following people who contributed ideas and content to this resource;

If you’ve got more ideas or advice to contribute to this resource, then please get in touch.