I’ve been leading and facilitating the Leading From Within outdoor experiential program for over twenty years. As I seriously contemplate retirement, I wanted to pass on one of the very cool traditions from this program around hiking sticks that you or your organization may want to incorporate into future retreats.

I should mention that the hiking stick concept I’m about to explain works best for multi-day retreats or programs that include team development and outdoor activities. That’s because the symbolism of the hiking stick coincides nicely with teams and leadership principles. In our case, Leading From Within is a three-day program on authentic leadership, usually held up in the Colorado mountains, with a typical group size of 12 to 18 participants. And, as you might imagine, we utilize the outdoor classroom for everything from group to solo hikes to a plethora of team building activities.

Here’s how we use the hiking sticks

We pre-purchase hiking sticks, based on the number of participants, and incorporate the cost into our program supplies budget. Fortunately for us, the ranch where we do most of our programs in Colorado makes their own hiking sticks from the surrounding aspen trees that populate their resort. With that said, we’ve also purchased walking sticks in lieu of hiking sticks whenever we’ve done this program in other parts of the country where we are not in the mountains. It really doesn’t matter.

Then, on day one of the program, we welcome participants with an initiation activity with the following components:

  1. We present each person with their own hiking stick.
  2. With hiking stick in hand, we ask each participant to introduce themselves to the group, sharing specific things about themselves that we asked them to share.
  3. We then provide paint markers and colored tape and ask participants to personalize their hiking sticks as they see fit.
  4. And lastly, we do a signing ceremony where participant sign each other’s hiking stick, using the paint markers.
After this initiation activity, we don’t formally utilize these sticks again until we do a group hike the following day, where we ask participants to bring their sticks with them.
Then, on the final day…and as part of the closing activity, we have a group discussion on the purpose and symbolism of the hiking sticks.