Cairn Leadership

About Knight Campbell

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 2006, Knight excelled in flight school, learning to pay attention to detail, manage fear, and control risk with his team. He earned the top graduate spot in his Fleet Replacement Squadron. Knight earned his Wings of Gold and led Sailors on two deployments to the Pacific conducting theater security and counter piracy operations.

Looking for a change of pace, he went back to the Naval Academy and earned masters degrees in leadership from UMD and the Naval War College. More importantly he had the honor of leading over 700 Midshipmen. From tackling 24-hour crucible events alongside his people to teaching advanced leadership theory, he left the tour with a burning passion for helping people reach their potential as leaders.

After one more deployment on an Aircraft Carrier, Knight decided to pursue leadership development full time. Having a goal to climb the high point in every state- only 10 left now- Knight found deep satisfaction in climbing mountains. Observing the limitations of teaching leadership in a classroom, he knew outdoor activities would be a perfect place for leaders to thrive. While working on a Management PhD at George Washington University, he started teaching rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking for REI Outdoor School. Knight then did a 30-day expedition in Alaska with NOLS to certify as a mountaineering instructor. Seeing the need for quality, hands-on leadership training, he switched gears to complete an Executive Leadership Coaching Certificate at Georgetown University. Now he is pursuing his PhD in Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego. 

Knight is passionate about combining disparate ideas to get gestalt moments, creating inspiring adventures where leaders forge community and deep growth, and spending time with his wife and daughter in the wilderness.

Why do you love guiding for Cairn Leadership Strategies & the mission at Cairn?

The moment I live for is when a client says they can’t climb a rock and they do. It makes them think – what else am I holding myself back on? These experiences break down barriers and bring people together. There is nothing like leadership training on pitch 2 of a multipitch climb.

What is one of the most important leadership competencies we teach, and what have you learned about it through guiding?

Decision making. I’ve learned over the years that people are whole and capable. It’s not about me solving their problems. It’s about me listening and helping co-create solutions. That’s the definition of a true leader.

Why should leaders and professionals spend more time exploring outside?

We have a duty to get away from things, to think deeply. The outdoors is the perfect place to do it. It makes us humble; it makes us small. Leaders need humility to connect with people better, and to bring out their emotional intelligence. The outdoors is also a great proving ground.

How do you define crux?

It is the hardest part, the essence. I think of the crux as what unlocks the rest. What is your relationship with your crux? Do you give up and walk away or do you persist?