API Summer 2021


By Tom Leahy, Leahy & Associates

It frequently takes emotional support as well as practical advice to deliver guests a memorable experience.

On my first belayed rock climb in 1979, the PPE consisted of a 100-foot section of “gold line” natural fiber be - lay rope, a top anchor, and two steel non-locking carabiners. The “bowline on a coil” around my waist could not remotely be called a harness, and it rode up my ribs, squeezing ever tighter. Any attempt to pause or rest on the rope led to a higher level of breath-taking pain. I made the top, but it did not feel like the adventure I had hoped for. At the end of the climb, the lead instruc- tor had us circle up. He asked about our struggles, how it felt and how we had eventually succeeded. In that simple facilitation, I saw the entire experience in a completely different light, and it created a lasting positive memory. That day, I learned four powerful lessons: • A few focused and intentional inquiries at the right moment will transform a negative experience into powerful positive growth. • Some challenges, while physically safe, feel like a failure, and participants depart with sadness and shame. • Doing everything right in operational procedures can still leave a guest with a disappointing misadventure. The consequences of a misadventure can range from a lack of repeat business to a lawsuit from a breach of duty of care. • A facilitator or guide can and must learn right along with participants. Reachable moments. Today’s PPE is vastly more comfortable than it was in 1979, but the challenges and struggles can be just as daunting for the un- initiated. In facilitated programs, the

Managing emotions. In adventure op- erations, we seek to invoke a powerful and positive emotional experience through a risk-based adventure. This makes the facilitation of human con- nections and emotion the foundation of our duty of care. There are times when the guide or facilitator must go beyond the steps outlined in the operations manual, when a facilitated approach is, in fact, just the right operational pro- cedure. That requires being approach- able, attentive, empathetic, helpful, and trustworthy for each person. Guides are typically trained to provide physical safety, but they may not be equally trained to provide emotional safety and facilitated positive outcomes. Delivering someone physically safe to the end of the tour is not the same as delivering a surprising and powerful experience despite the predictable struggles. Without a level of competent facilitation, some clients’ adventures will end poorly. You may not know of this outcome until you get a bad review (or a call from a lawyer). Facilitation in our industry has always been a difficult thing to grasp. The “touchy feely” image of facilitation suggests that it’s more like a therapeu- tic or personal growth approach than coaching on a two-hour-long adventure. Yet, all programs have a responsibility to deliver participants safely to the con- clusion, both physically and emotional- ly. We must provide the right guidance and support to our clients—facilitation, in a word—whether we have promised education and growth or just plain fun and excitement.

term “teachable moments” applies to opportunities, planned or observed, to introduce and process the learning objectives promised in education or therapy. But in all programs, facilitated or guided, there are moments in which the care of the human spirit and foster- ing a positive group experience become the most important objectives. These we might call “reachable moments.”

The lead instructor in my climb was attentive to these reachable moments. He had the awareness, training, and developed skills to respond effectively to my struggle. His attentive engagement during and a short conversation at the end changed the outcome for the better. Circling up before and after an experi - ence is critical to reaching the desired positive outcomes.


Reachable moments are predictable opportunities in which the right aware- ness, focus, and engagement will turn a potential misadventure into a wonder- ful memory of challenge and success. These are the moments in which we give an individual or the group more than they expect—and exactly what they deserve.

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