Cairn Leadership logo of a rock cairn stacked next to the name of the company.
Edit Content
Contact Us

Leaders need adventure to thrive

Knight Campbell
January 22, 2018

Leaders need adventure to thrive, grow, learn, and simply live fulfilling lives. Do you have enough adventure in your work life? Does leadership sometimes feel like a burden rather than a joy? Do you provide adventure for the people you lead? In today’s world, our brains tell us to avoid risk as we become more addicted to the ease of smartphones and the safety of repeating what we know. Meanwhile, our hearts and souls yearn for a wild exploration of the unknown.

Turns out leadership comes from the heart and soul.

Leaders need adventure to thrive. Do you have enough?
Imagine our lives without adventure. Sadly it may not be that hard.

When I began designing my leadership development practice, I kept returning to the outdoors as a fun and useful aspect of Cairn Leadership. I had taught and developed leaders indoors for years, and I knew going outside would improve the experience and efficacy of training. Yet until now, l never thought of adventure as an imperative for leadership and leadership development.

On a trail run, where most of my best thoughts surface, I came up with the slogan “Adventure with a Purpose.” We all want adventure, and for busy people running businesses, non-profits, and organizations adding purpose seems like a good way to help validate taking time to explore a little. It seemed like a win-win.

Now after listening to countless friends, clients, and acquaintances, I am convinced that adventure is not a nice to have differentiation for Cairn Leadership. People I listen to pine after their youth and the freedom to explore possibilities rather than discount them. People dream of breaking free from self-imposed prisons of responsibility. 

A deep need for adventure simmers at our very core.

In reality, humanity has sought out adventure since the beginning of our time. Adventure is one of our deepest-seated needs. Certainly, adventure fits on top of Maslow’s pyramid of needs, but it also lies instinctively at the very base. Without acceptance of and even seeking adventure, our ancestors could not have fulfilled their basic needs for food, water, and sex!

Our earliest ancestors had a nomadic drive to follow food sources and to hunt. They needed to move and explore to find the best herds and literally avoid starving to death. Since then, adventure has fueled human exploration and refinement. Curiosity, the scientific process, the discovery of new lands – all adventure. The most breathtaking alpine ascents and the possibility of curing cancer – adventure.

People thrive when they seek out and embrace adventure. That is why we have placed it at the core of our leadership development at Cairn Leadership. Dan Pink, a leading writer on motivation, proposes that three things lead to intrinsic motivation- purpose, mastery, and autonomy. Let’s look at these a little closer.

Leaders in the rain learning about problem solving


People need a purpose to thrive. We need to believe in what we do beyond simply punching the time clock. A worthwhile purpose helps us overcome the most daunting of obstacles. Purpose is also the nexus of an adventure. Adventures have to begin with a purpose, even one as simple as exploring new ideas. Expeditions, scientific discoveries, mythical treasures, or employee engagement all provide the impetus for leaving our comfort zones to embark on adventures.

Stopping to smell the… well… avalanche lilies in this case, isn’t a luxury. It’s a need. That moment grounds us in what’s important, why we are on this earth.


A desire for growth almost always accompanies adventure as well. The journey of Mastery sustains us and motivates us. Humanity has an innate need to grow and learn, to master skills and knowledge. This need is demonstrated by our exponential growth as a society. This quest for growth leads to, and is in and of itself an adventure!


Autonomy should appeal to anyone reading this who deals with a micromanaging boss. More importantly, our need to strike out on our own has led to the advancement of our race for millennia. Our heroes take their own paths in everything from exploration to social justice. While leaving the safety of the known can scare us, deep down we yearn to depart from the known path and confront the world in all its glory.

Mountain guides demonstrating leadership capacity and energy

Without adventure, humans would not be the way we know we are today. Can you imagine our lives without adventure? Sadly it may not be that hard. We fear change and risk, so we sit in boring jobs to take home our paychecks. We deny our intuition and stay silent when we see a better way. Medical studies have even shown that a lack of adventure leads to depression and anxiety. People joke that sitting is the new smoking, but that lack of adventure leads to serious health ramifications not to mention a dramatic decrease in motivation.

In short, adventure makes us better people, workers, leaders, and family members. We find and feed our growth mindset rather than fixating on the fear of failure. We become more joyful and more able to cope with setbacks. We get in touch with our vitality and contribute with critical thinking and motivation to our teams. We embrace the process of innovation and become joyful leaders- something the world needs more of!

Everyone needs adventure to thrive. Everyone needs great leadership to grow. Cairn Leadership Strategies does both!

Questions? We'd love to hear from you! 

Additional Articles

It turns out that the way satellites communicate with each other can teach us a lot about how we communicate in the workplace.
It’s rare to find a team where everyone clearly knows the mission, understands their part in it, and enjoys going to meetings, but Dr. Vanessa Druskat, a leading researcher in team emotional intelligence, says that is the bar for an OK team. Where does your team stack up?
99% of college professors say that critical thinking is the single most important concept students need to learn, but most studies show that students leave school unequipped to think critically.

Let's Stay in touch