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6 Leadership Lessons From The Great Outdoors

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For someone with no experience in retail, apparel or business, starting my own clothing company was a pretty bold move. I never intended to be an entrepreneur, but after years of working in the outdoors, I could never find workpants that fit properly and decided to create Red Ants Pants, which makes workpants for women. Looking back, I realize my outdoor experience with organizations like the Student Conservation Association and Outward Bound have influenced my entrepreneurial mindset.

Here are six key lessons from working with your hands that helped me start a successful business:

Don't rush under a falling tree. My father taught me how to use a chainsaw, and rule number one was safety first. You can't hurry the job when you're cutting timber. You might do a sloppy job or, worse, cut off a limb or get crushed by a falling tree. 

You may have a great idea and be gung-ho about getting it to the market but take a breath first. Make sure you are organized and have a solid plan before you leap in. 

Related: Unlocking Business Ideas Hidden in the Natural World

Listen and share what you know. I grew up on a farm in Cornwell, Conn. and after majoring in environmental science in college, I spent several years leading high school students on expeditions into the woods to teach them about the environment. It was a thrill for me to see their young minds open up as they became more aware about what we use and what we waste. I also gained something in the exchange -- a knowledge of their lives and what drove them.

I've found that sharing what I know encourages others to share their knowledge with me. Everyone gains and grows -- a key to starting and running a successful business. 

Be willing to venture into rough terrain. Backpacking is one of my favorite activities. But it's not a luxurious or even comfortable experience. You have to cut a trail, haul water and face so many other challenges. 

Owning a business is not so different. The industry throws so many things at you and the learning curve can be steep. But once you overcome challenges you thought were insurmountable, your confidence will be that much higher when the next rough spot comes around. 

Fix problems fast. Years before I founded my company, I tore the crotch of my pants while on a job. Running home to change wasn't an option, so I picked my only alternative: I patched the rip with duct tape and finished what I was working on. Sometimes we can get so fixated on the process of making decisions that the actual decision-making gets lost. If you see your team getting bogged down in meetings that are going nowhere, just imagine what you would do if you ripped your pants. Cut to the chase and make a move.

Related: How to Get Everything Done By Doing Less

Find a place where you can think. I love a horizon that looks like it stretches to infinity. In 2004, I moved to Bozeman, Mont., but soon found I wanted to live in a more rural place. I'd read a book about White Sulphur Springs, Mont., a ranching town of 900 people, and after I visited, I knew I was home. It's no surprise that this is where Red Ants Pants took shape. 

The world can sometimes be so noisy that we can't think. When that happens to you, find solitude, even if that just means shutting off your phone for an hour. You need alone time to get the juices flowing.

Hire others to do what you can't. After deciding I was going to open a clothing company, I got a job sewing backpacks because I felt I needed to understand how to sew. Very soon, however, I hired a crackerjack sewing team so that I could handle the parts of my business I'm best at. 

It's great to understand every aspect of your business, but be realistic -- there are others who can do certain things a lot better than you. Hire them, treat them well, and they will make your business shine.

Related: How to Get Everything Done By Doing Less 


Sarah Calhoun

Written By

Sarah Calhoun is founder and owner of Red Ants Pants, a White Sulphur, Mont.-based company that makes work clothes for women.