Building A Team of Leaders. November 16, 2013

On November 3, 2013, three women will begin their ride of 1000 miles along the entire length of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. What makes their trip so much different from so many other Baja riders is that they will be doing it by mule. In this five part series of articles we will not only share their challenges and their triumphs, but see how these lessons can be applied to the running of a business.

The goals of La Mula Mil (The Mule 1000) are:

to successfully recreate the Meling Expedition of 1963/64 as a 50th anniversary tribute

to produce a coffee-table book of photography and stories that overlay the two expeditions

to celebrate the people and the pueblos of Baja California and thereby promote tourism in Baja California Mexico

to raise awareness of and funds for our three favourite non-profit associations. Coins for Classrooms, Living Roots Baja and Mujeres del Golfo .

The first goal involves riding mules the entire length of the Baja peninsula. This will take around four months and cover about 1000 miles. Most of the time we will be camping out and cooking over a fire. We will stay and eat with ranch families from time to time, helping with goal number three.

Along the way, I will be doing photography and writing up each day’s travels, preparing to update social media and to write a book and possibly produce a film. 

Stated in such a way, these sound like fairly simple tasks, but they are obviously four very big goals. In order to accomplish just one of these, we would need a leader who had people willing to follow her and trust her. When you have four stand-alone goals, then you need a team of leaders. 

Trudi Angell is the jefa (pronounced hefa). She is the overall logistics person, her job is to understand where we are going and how we are going to get there, oversee the supplies and the kitchen as well as to make sure we have the right number of riding mules, pack animals, saddles and assorted gear required for a half-dozen people to get the 10-15 miles down the trail that we aim for each day. She is also co-coordinating the bulk of our “paying guests”, riders who are joining us for a few days or even a week or two along the way to experience not just the ride, but to provide some income as well. She has an office assistant working back in Loreto in her tour business that assists with this.

On top of that, she also hires the vaqueros (cowboys) and guias (guides) and arranges for any guias (permits) required for the areas we pass through.

If we have to retire an animal from the ride, which we have already had to do, she then starts contacting those in her extensive cadre of contacts that can trailer animals and haul them back to where they need to be.

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Olivia Angell’s job is to run the kitchen, provide the evening meal, monitor supplies and to make sure our paying guests are well-taken care of. This job is being done in the desert, away from stores, roads, running water and refrigeration. She needs to assess the food, and more importantly, the condition of the food, each day, making the menu plan based not on convenience or mood or preferences, but on what will go bad if we don’t use it right away. She is able to supplement our supplies by what is available at various ranches or small tiendas (stores) along the way or by using gifts of food, often queso fresco (freshly made soft cheese) that are personally delivered by ranchers that wish us well. At times we are able to join in a meal at a ranch house. Sometimes we pay for the meal, sometimes it is given. When we need something added to the larder we have to try to send a message ahead via the rancher’s radio system or with a cowboy passing by so that it can be brought in to a point further down the trail for us to pick up. One of the trickiest parts of Olivia’s job is keeping everyone’s food needs met. We at times have vegetarians, folks with allergies or gluten intolerances along. Olivia also monitors our Facebook page for queries and comments in Spanish. On top of that she has started a bilingual blog about our trip.

My job is to document the trip, taking notes along the way, as well as photographs and videos. I help track our position on the map and the Spot beacon while cataloging the visuals (photographs and videos). I maintain the log of those who are on the ride at different times, whether or not they have given permission to be photographed and have their stories used. I quietly interview people and co-ordinate our information so that we have some cohesive documents to work from when it comes time to write our book and put together a video. Our social media streams are my responsibility as well. We have a La Mula Mil Facebook page and have been using the wrrldgrrl YouTube channel and blogging platform. I also continue to monitor the Coins For Classrooms Facebook page. At this point the Facebook page is by far the most active of our streams. I have also been working with writers and other social media sites to keep information on our trip at the forefront. My responsibilities also include the Indiegogo page for fundraising and this monthly article. (Our Indiegogo campaign is now closed.) 

As you can see, each of these areas requires a confident and capable leader who is willing and able to take on a great deal of responsibility, to stand firm on their area of influence but be willing to listen to the input of the other leaders, to know when to offer help to the team co-leaders and one of the hardest parts, know when to accept input and assistance, as well as when to ask for help or space. 

On top of these things, this is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, four month expedition in the wilderness. So we need to deal with each other not just as co-leaders, but as humans, complete with all our strengths, weaknesses and foibles. 

So how do we do this? Actually DO it, not just talk about it or quote management theories?

Good question. 

We know that we need to be able to communicate with each other and to be able to pick up the pieces of someone else’s job if they need to step away for a short or long time. So we have set-up a joint email account that we can all access. We also each have administrator privileges on most of our social media. We include each other in conversations relevant to leading the group or ask to be included if need be. 

Each Monday evening we have a 30 minute “touch base” meeting with clear rules on how we behave. We each have a few minutes to state how we feel everything is going, good or bad. We use I statements. We actively listen while the others are speaking, not use the time to formulate a response. Interrupting another person is not allowed. After we go round our circle, we will pick the topic that seems to be most pressing and offer solutions, and agree on how to proceed. We work our way through the topics until the 30 minutes are up. In our last meeting we determined that during the course of the day much information had to be repeated, especially to our guests but sometimes to each other as well. It was confusing, frustrating and inefficient. We decided that when we needed the group to know something we would call everyone together so it needed to be said just once. Well, twice actually. Once in English and again in Spanish. This way everyone, including our Spanish speaking staff, know what is happening. We also decided that being interrupted while giving information was making it difficult to make sure everyone had their needs met. We now put our hand up briefly when someone interrupts to signal that we are otherwise engaged but will talk to them or answer their question in a moment. It seems to be working when we remember to signal our acknowledgement but we do need to remember to do that! 

As to the “touch base” meeting, so far, so good, we have had one, it is my job to make sure we continue to have them and to facilitate them. 

The key component in this expedition is trust. We trust each other to do their tasks, we trust ourselves to ask for help or for what is needed and we trust that we have each other’s back. Our goal is to still be friends at the end of this.

And one of my personal goals is to go home comfortable with being a strong leader again, ready to run my business in a more pro-active way.

If you use any of these skills in your business now, or start using them because of this article, please do comment. Together we can be better leaders and build better teams. 

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