Outside Insights | The Return of The Mountaineers Leadership Conference

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, learn about The Mountaineers Leadership Conferences and how we are supporting our volunteer leaders.
Michelle Song Michelle Song
Associate Director of Leadership
February 27, 2024
Outside Insights | The Return of The Mountaineers Leadership Conference
Photo by Luke Hollister.

As part of The Mountaineers leadership development team, I have the privilege of supporting our impressive collective of 3000+ volunteers. The dedication of our volunteers is incredible, to say the least. The list of their contributions to our community and the greater outdoors has grown significantly over our 117-year history. From planning and guiding activities, to mentoring new Mountaineers, to managing our lodges, it’s clear that our volunteers are generous with their time. While they share a common passion for the outdoors, our volunteers are driven by a range of motivations, such as paying it forward or expanding their adventure partner network. Our leadership development programs enhance these intrinsic rewards and invest back into our volunteers.

A key takeaway from my time with The Mountaineers is that leadership development doesn't adhere to a universal, one-size-fits-all approach. There is not one training, workshop, or course that provides the ultimate how-to for aspiring leaders. Mountaineers interests and focuses are as varied as the terrain of the Pacific Northwest, and leadership development opportunities are most impactful when they provide a diverse range of skills and qualities that extend beyond any specific role or context. Whether it's effectively communicating during a committee meeting, making informed decisions while leading a trip, or simply navigating the challenges of instructing a course while prioritizing mental health, refined leadership skills are invaluable to volunteers.

A core objective of leadership development at The Mountaineers is to meet the ongoing education needs of our volunteers, empowering them to promote a culture of belonging within our organization and beyond. We aim to ensure that anyone with the desire to learn an outdoor skill can safely do so from a Mountaineers volunteer. In our commitment to equip volunteers for success and support their leadership journey, I’m excited to welcome our annual Leadership Conferences back into our leadership development repertoire.

Photo by Mountaineers Staff ii.jpgMembers at the 2016 Leadership Conference. Photo by Mountaineers staff.

Leadership Conferences in Seattle and Tacoma

For the very first time, we are offering two iterations of our popular Leadership Conference: one at the Seattle Program Center in December 2023 and one at the Tacoma Program Center in March 2024. Offering two iterations amplifies our reach and grants our volunteers the flexibility to choose the location that suits them best. Both conferences will be sure to inspire, featuring a similar lineup of presenters and content. We will host a roster of esteemed outdoor experts as well as accomplished leaders from within The Mountaineers community. Through a series of interactive sessions, attendees will embark on a deep dive into the multifaceted dimensions of leadership. With topics thoughtfully categorized into three distinct tracks — Experiential Leadership, Risk Management, and Equity & Inclusion — current and aspiring volunteers of all experience levels will discover a topic that resonates with their interests.

The wide range of scheduled topics are tailored for The Mountaineers community and the various types of outdoor experiences our volunteer leaders provide. Participants will explore methods to enhance their leadership skills by immersing themselves in real-life situations and gain insight into how practical experiences can mold and shape effective leaders. Whether it be exploring strategies and best practices for risk management, learning to identify leader halos, or crafting actionable steps to establish spaces where everyone finds a sense of belonging, we‘ll cover numerous aspects of leadership, all guided by seasoned experts. Opportunities abound, with so much to discover and experience.

Photo by Mountaineers Staff.jpgMembers at the 2019 Leadership Conference. Photo by Mountaineers staff.

The hiatus: Developing the Foundations courses

Since the first event in 2014, The Mountaineers Leadership Conference has been an opportunity for like-minded volunteers to gather, learn, and grow together. The past few years have presented unprecedented challenges, with the pandemic causing a conference hiatus. We had hoped to reintroduce the conference in 2021, but a large gathering became infeasible. We made the difficult decision to cancel the 2021 Leadership Conferences due to rising cases of COVID-19 in King and Pierce County. This decision allowed us to ensure the well-being of our community and pivot our focus toward creating our Foundations of Leadership and Foundations of Instruction eLearning courses.

The Foundations courses were designed to replace the long-standing Becoming a Mountaineers Leader eLearning course and to impart greater fundamental leadership principles essential for our volunteers. The Foundations courses are a robust set of trainings and lessons catered specifically to Mountaineers volunteers. They’re the premier introduction to leadership and instructional concepts, serving as our benchmark outdoor leadership training.

To accommodate different learning styles while establishing long-term leadership development, the Foundations courses are offered online and year-round. In 2022, in lieu of our standard Leadership Conference, we offered our Foundations courses as an all-day, in-person event. Similar to the Leadership Conference, Foundations of Leadership & Instruction In-person was an entire day of engagement and learning across branches. The in-person course, with its conference-style format, hosted a schedule around course components, accommodating individuals who learn best in a group setting and providing opportunities to ask questions and engage in real-time discussions about the foundational materials.

The comeback: Revamping the Leadership Conference

Looking back over the past three years, considering the conference hiatus, the cancellations of the 2021 Leadership Conferences, and the fresh ventures in our leadership development programming, one fact remains evident: we are consistently amazed by the steadfast leadership of our volunteers. Even this year’s revival of the Leadership Conference and its existence as a dual event between Seattle and Tacoma is a result of feedback from our volunteers, who expressed interest in greater geographic opportunities for our leadership development programs and the return of the collaborative energy and branch networking that only The Mountaineers Leadership Conference can offer.

As we step into 2024, our dedication to the unique approaches of leadership development remains strong. The upcoming re-launch of the Leadership Conference signifies a vital occasion to bolster our current and aspiring volunteers. These two events promise to be a platform that will captivate volunteers from all journeys, offering something for every Mountaineers volunteer who facilitates the exploration, conservation, instruction, and enjoyment of the lands and waters of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

There’s still time to register for the Leadership Conference in Tacoma! Join us on Saturday, March 23, 2024 at the Tacoma Program Center from 9am-4pm. Register at mountaineers.org/tacoma-leadership-conference-2024.

This blog was updated to reflect a republication in our winter 2024 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.