Nature and Biodiversity

Here’s what adventuring can teach you about leadership

Kat Bruce and her team completing the GB Row Challenge in 2022.

NatureMetrics founder Kat Bruce believes that adventuring can help you become a better leader. Image: Kat Bruce

James Fell
Senior Writer, Formative
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  • Experiences gained during travel expeditions can help leaders better navigate difficult situations and run high-functioning teams, according to an adventurer and eco-entrepreneur.
  • NatureMetrics founder Kat Bruce talks to the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast about how the risks and challenges she has faced, on land and at sea, have helped her become a better leader.
  • Understanding and proactively managing group dynamics is crucial for effective teamwork, especially in high-pressure environments.

“People say, go and have adventures. It helps you in your work life. And I always thought that was an excuse just to go and have adventures. But it's not. It's genuinely transformative. So, I would say if you ever have an opportunity to do something like this, do so, because you get so much from it.”

As founder of NatureMetrics, a start-up that uses cutting-edge genetic techniques to monitor biodiversity, Kat Bruce is in the business of measuring minute traces of DNA left by organisms in air, water, and soil. This helps monitor ecosystems, enabling governments, NGOs and businesses to better understand their economic and environmental impact, and assess changes from practices like regenerative agriculture.

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But before launching NatureMetrics, which is also a member of UpLink's community of Top Innovators, Bruce was a keen jungle explorer, navigating the Amazon on a balsa raft she built and living alongside Indigenous tribes. More recently, she was part of a team that rowed around the coast of Great Britain to map the health of its coastal ecosystems in boats adapted to collect microplastics, environmental DNA, audio, temperature and salinity data.

On 9 June 20024, she will lead an all-female rowing team in the GB Row Challenge. This will involve travelling 2,000 miles unassisted to gather key environmental information while documenting the stories of coastal restoration and regeneration projects around Britain.

In this episode of the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast series, Bruce talks to Digital Editor Linda Lacina about how the risks and challenges she has faced as an adventurer have helped her become a better leader.

Learning from tough experiences

In 2023, no longer the CEO of NatureMetrics, Bruce began questioning what value she brought to the organization. A subsequent rowing trip around Britain helped bring this into sharp relief.

“So I spent a month at sea in a completely different environment, having to work together in a very, very small space with people I didn't know particularly well, in a potentially dangerous environment,” she explains.

“We ended up in big storms in the Irish Sea, and you’re relying on a lot of incomplete information. You have to work together. You have to go through those difficult times where you have to hear other people's views, and then you have to actually make a decision and commit to it together. That was amazing to do in a completely different context from my work life.”

Upon returning to her day job, Bruce quickly found she could engage with the business in a different way, and with a lot more confidence. She didn’t shy away from difficult conversations or avoid environments where there could potentially be some conflict.

“I was able to walk into those situations and come out productively and not nearly as emotional as I used to,” she explains. “It completely transformed my relationship with my board and executive team.”

Nature performance dashboard
With its Nature Intelligence Platform, NatureMetrics provides a comprehensive nature reporting solution. Image: NatureMetrics

Playing to team members’ strengths

Those who shout the loudest are the first to be heard, eclipsing those with less booming vocal cords. But that creates an unfair system where intensity and loudness are the chief components of success, says Bruce. Devising a fair-opinion amplification system was crucial to her sailing trip's success.

“We had some people who enjoyed taking risks more than others and who had louder voices,” she says. “We decided to give somebody with the most conservative voice in the boat the responsibility to speak up, to amplify a difference of opinion. This allowed this person to make a clear decision when the crew was heading into turbulent storms on the Irish Sea, to turn back down the coast and seek shelter, therefore ensuring safety and not recklessly risking the team.

“Because we've been through some of these situations before or situations where we realized that we had these sort of imbalances and we've been able to talk about it, to assess it and think, ‘Okay, what can we put in place to counteract this so that when we're next in the situation, we know how to deal with it and we don't end up with a big conflict or something that would spiral into a dangerous situation?’.

“I think it’s important when working with teams to work out who you are as a team, your different personalities, your different strengths and weaknesses. And then, for that particular team, what it is you need to put in place to function effectively in difficult times – it’s such an important investment early on.”

The quotes in this article have been lightly edited

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