Our Mission Defined

A New Paradigm in Education

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” –Joel A. Barker

A Model to Follow

Many of those who grew up during the Great Depression then served during World War II or contributed to the war effort as civilians, and are considered the Greatest Generation. Not only did many fight in the war; most volunteered to fight. This generation was also the driving force in putting a man on the moon. It has been said that they were driven to do the right thing.

Through our work with veterans from WWII and Korea we have heard countless hours of stories of their daily life, of how they were raised, how they were educated, their experiences both in peace and in war. Our founders were raised and mentored by this generation and the previous generation and they believe that we as a people need to have the future generations having the same skills, attributes, and mindset. Since 1975 the long range goal of our founder was to have an institute that replicated those results and work began to build that institution. In 2001 Brian opened the doors on what would later become Northwestern Outdoor Leadership Institute to give the kids of today many of the same experiences, develop in them the habits, and attributes as those we call the greatest generation. We have also pulled practices from some of the best hot beds of talent.

Our Mission

The core of our mission has never changed though a few words have changed over the years to add clarity and remove ambiguity. It is not only our goal that Northwestern Outdoor Leadership Institute will continue for perpetuity but our mission will stand to the test of time.

“We believe, for a brighter future, we must develop those that will lead others in their chosen field that have the habits to be healthy physically fit happy prosperous emotionally intelligent empathetic ethical people with grit, which are well educated, skilled in creative, critical, and divergent thinking, capable of adaptability and collaboration, and are good stewards of the earth.”


This has been our mission for a very long time; it has grown and been refined with the help of our mentors, some still with us, some passed, with our staff and with our students. Each word has been carefully chosen and reflected upon. Our goal in writing this page is to have you develop a full understanding of what we do and why we do it. It is our guidingpost and our expectation that it will be for generations to come.

The Big Why of Our Mission

We take our mission seriously; it is our guidingpost for all of our actions. It will be our guidingpost long after our founders have passed. For each decision that is to be made, for each motion on the floor to be passed, it must first pass the test that it is in agreement with our mission. Our founders have given those that follow, for perpetuity, this guidingpost, it will not change. No decision will jeopardize or change our mission. Each key point is defined below:

Their Chosen Field

Our customer is the student not the state or insurance company, we do not have a canned curriculum that the students must follow, but we provide the freedom and resources for the students to meet their own goals for an occupation, for avocation, family, spirit, economic independents, and fitness.


It is our belief that in a large part the kids that made up the Greatest Generation and the generations before were the products of their parents’ and elders’ modeling of love and discipline doing the core daily routines of pre 1940 life and all attributed to the habits that made these kids become the great people that they were.

Positive habits are learned from watching and working with those that model positive habits daily: good mentors re-enforce those habits in their students. People like to say practice makes perfect. No, practice make permanent. To truly make perfect one must practice the task perfectly, to strive with each practice to raise the bar, to raise ones expectation. We strive to develop in our participants the habits of the happiest and most successful people of the Greatest Generation and generations before; through daily core routines.


Happiness starts with our students being given the autonomy to spend their day exploring their own individual interests, developing their passions and learning in a way that the individual best learns. Being happy during the formative years develops the brain to its fullest potential. Being in a constant state of stress on the other hand limits physical and mental development and future success. Happiness does not me a day without challenges

Happiness is ability result of a healthy adrenaline serotonin cycle. Adrenalin may be caused by a need, the adrenalin produces the stress to do something fight, flight, or work. Serotonin may come from the intrinsic meeting of the need or the external praise for completing the task. This cycle can be the result of rough and tumble free play, free exploration to venture from safety and return to the hearth or a difficult physical or mental task being met and worked through to successful completion, and gathering around the central fire and telling the story of the challenge, the “battle,” and the success to their family and peers are just a few examples. Happiness is a product of where you are in the challenge and success cycle. If a person has no challenges they cannot have the resulting success, therefore not have the happiness that comes with it. Music, background noise, color of light, conversation, and what we choose to think about all can either drive up or down either adrenalin or serotonin.

Being happy is an outcome of habits; being unhappy is also a result of habits. If a person practices daily core routines that trigger a healthy adrenalin serotonin cycle they will develop a habit of being happy and the daily problems of everyday life will not spiral the person down but are just seen as a challenge to overcome. With those habits the bigger problems that may drive others to despair are met with enthusiasm.

There are eight daily core routines that we have identified as common to happy people, therefore the structure of the staff and students’ day is punctuated with those core routines. Research has shown that practicing these daily core routines changes the structures of the brain, it reduces base adrenaline and increases the base serotonin which makes one not only live happier, but longer and healthier; there is another payback which is success.


You might say that those that set and meets their goals of becoming a doctors, dentists, stockbrokers, or lawyers are successful. You would probably say that those people that met those goals would reflect on meeting their goals as being successful. You would might say that anyone that is depressed about their life sees themselves as being unsuccessful. You would probably say that someone that takes their own life as being unsuccessful. Yet those same people that you said were successful are nearly twice as likely to kill themselves as the general population. We at Northwestern Outdoor Leadership Institute do not believe our measure of success should be based on our students high score on a standardized tests, how many of our students enter the university, or becoming the highest wage earners in their town; we believe the only truly noble measure of the quality of a school is the long term prosperity of our students as sons and daughter, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, leaders in their communities and companies, and elders in their communities.

Our definition of prosperous: Is the measure of a person to achieve the desired attributes and resources to be happy, to serve their family and community and most importantly to prepare their descendants to do the same.

It should be noted that our hospice patients helped us with this definition.

Emotional Intelligence

We define emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions, how our own emotional intelligence influences emotions of others, and how to recognize the emotions of others. This is a learned skill, not by lecture and testing but developed through observation of the modeling of others and continual interaction with others.


Being empathic is the skill to understand and share the feelings of another. The skill of empathy is necessary to be a good horseman, good friend, spouse, parent, or leader. Not having empathy for others will prevent a person from building personal and professional relationships, and in those deep connections that make for success in both kinship and business. To develop the skills of empathy and emotional intelligence cannot be learned from lecture, reading, or standardized tests but from observation and experience. A child will learn more in a half an hour of playing tag in a mixed age group or going for a walk with an elderly person than they ever could studying a book.

Empathy is only part of what we strive for, we believe that this is only part of the bigger picture. We believe world-class leadership requires critical understanding of what makes people tick, what people need to raise their own personal bar, to solve the problems of the organizations that they are leading.

World-Class Leadership

Our world has always prospered under good skilled and balanced leaders. Our own mid-range goal is to develop the leadership to take over the work that we do in our organization. Our long-range goal is to take it forward into the ancestors that have yet to be born. To build a world that will continue to be healthy and prosper as long as the sun shines. Everything we do is to build great leaders from the ground up. We create an environment and situations that the skills of leadership develop organically not starting at age 18 or 15 but as soon as a child can watch and listen.


In this age of buildings and cars with environmental control systems people go through their days and weeks never venturing more than 2 degrees from 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Children are protected from anything that can cause injury, many people believe that children should never have to suffer hearing a simple “NO!” Grit is to have the courage and resolve; the strength of character to continue to push on when roadblocks get in our way. None of us will have a life free of problems, some will be small like getting turned down for a date others will be enormous like the loss of a child. Without grit, small problems are devastating, with grit when we encounter large problems we can pick ourselves up and continue to do what needs to get done. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), everyone understands can be caused by having trauma happen to one’s self or seeing it happen to someone else, but few realize that it can also be caused by being overprotected. Without the daily cycle adrenalin and serotonin that comes from the daily challenges that humans were given the tools to overcome the person may fail to thrive. Being overprotected prevents us from having the autonomy to experience a little hurt and grow from it when young. Grit must be developed a little bit each day and grown over time. Our daily chores address this.

Well Educated

Being well educated is broader than simply being well prepared for the workforce, much broader. Our students individually set their long range goals for their vocation and avocation, their mentors guide them to learn to make midrange goals and daily goals to meet their long range goals. The students are not given road blocks to prevent them from following their passions each day; they are given the tools, time, and resources to go beyond mastery in what they pursue, the goal is for them to become leaders in what they pursue. Given that they are pursuing that which they have a passion for the math, science, history, literature, art associated with their goal will be relevant to them yet transferable to other subjects. If and when their passions shift or grow the skills will still be relevant. To be truly a leader in their vocation or avocation they must also become well educated in the skills and knowledge of kinship, health & fitness, fiscal, and spiritual.

Truly being a well educated leader the student must have a depth and breadth of knowledge and skill-set to have mastery of the other attributes listed in our mission such as creative, critical, and divergent thinker. As a person raises their bar of mastery in any one skill-set, it contributes to the ability to raise the bar in all of the other attributes leading to being well educated. Example without a good knowledge base of history, science, and math a leader does not have the tools to discern fact from fiction or emotion. Being well balanced in all of those attributes of a well-educated person spirals up to continue making the person better educated.

Being well educated requires us all to keep moving forward, if we are not moving forward we are falling behind. Therefore being well educated is also a habit.


Creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas, not only especially the production of an artistic work but in any problem-solving endeavor be it engineering, law, or medicine, truly the list is endless.

Through exposure to many subjects and disciplines, through design projects, collaboration with others, and rewarded for finding better ways of doing tasks and solving problems our students become creative and develop a positive outlook when being confronted with challenges.

In our rapidly changing world, our leaders need to find new and creative solutions to the problems that will lie ahead.

Critical Thinking

As Defined by Micheal Scriven & Richard Paul

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Critical thinking is apply good judgment, to solve a problem based on critical thinking one must have a great breadth and depth of knowledge and without emotion pars out facts from fiction, popular fallacy from reality then using logic and reasoning to address the true problem. The benefit of decisions based on critical thinking is time, energy, and money pursuing solutions to problems that will not solve the problem will not be wasted. Critical thinking will eliminate much more costly solutions from those that are less expensive or simpler. It will eliminate working at solving a problem that is not a real problem. It will allow people to see a real problem when others can’t see a real problem at all, or see that a given solution may cause a much bigger problem. It will give awareness to a problem that others cannot see. Again another skill that our true leaders need to be masters at.


In real life trails can be rocky, paths are blocked with a swollen creek. The simple act of running on a rocky trail picking a path across a creek makes children agile in not only in running but in thinking. What would stop others in their tracks does not slow our students down. The failure of equipment, the death of livestock, unpredicted weather, the death of a friend, lack of acceptance or rejection, or civil unrest; all of these happen in real-life and in addition to building grit these events that require a workaround to train the mind to be adaptable, to have agility, and prepare us for bigger hurdles.


Collaboration is more than working with others on a team, the true leader recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of those that will make up the team. The students will learn to guide the team members to shore up their weaknesses and building on their strengths. They all will learn to use the synergistic effect offsetting the weaknesses of one member with the strengths of another member analogous the making of rope from randomly combining individual fibers the strengths of one offsets the weakness of others, therefore the output will be greater than the sum of its parts. However, if those fibers are put together with mindfulness making sure that the weakness of one fiber is paired up with a fiber that shores up by the strengths of another a superior rope is produced.

If a well thought out collaborative team is built on that same precept that all members have different strengths the team will define synergy. It is not enough to simply work together in a team but train leaders to build great teams that build on the strengths of the team and help strengthen members weaknesses.

Our students will have real-time experiences with well-tuned functioning teams defining synergy. Our participants learn to build productive teams that can do more than one person can do alone by the sheer volume of work to be done or the need of various experts from the different fields of study to put their heads together for a common good. All students will be project managers on little through midsized projects learning the tools and skills of project management. Their capstone project will most likely be a project that they will want the synergy of collaboration.

Good Stewards of the Earth

We cannot be separated from nature; all food, water, timber, wool, cotton, and many medicines come from nature. Many cultures teach that everything we need has been given to us in nature. Many resources that come from the earth are finite like copper, tin, coal and crude oil, others through good management of pastures, farms, crops will feed and shelter us as long as the sun shines and the rain falls. But with poor management of these resources of the land we continue to cause manmade disasters like the Dust Bowl and the Sahara Desert. Therefore, it is our responsibility through education and modeling that we create leaders that will not only make decisions that will positively influence their community but the legacy of their good work will live for generations to come.

Veterans, Military, and First Responders, Their Families and the Elderly

We strongly believe that our future leaders must protect and serve those who protected and served us. We believe the first step in developing those leaders is developing strong bonds to those that have served and to their families. We believe it is wrong these very people who have served us in times of conflict or peace should be put in isolation. These people should be respected and helped every day not just on Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day.

The Families

We understand it is hard for the families of military every step of their journey: boot camp, being deployed, returning from deployment, and retirement. We understand that the soldier and their family are ill prepared for these events and both the soldier and their family need training, skills, tools, and mentorship to navigate these times. When done properly and early it minimizes the damage for all.

Families of the Fallen

We also see a great need for training and an experienced community with the tools to catch the families of fallen soldiers and first responders when they need it most. It is shown that early intervention minimizes dropout rate, addiction, and suicide of the children of the fallen.


A measure of the health of a society is how well we treat the elderly. Elderly that are institutionalized until death sees little value in their living. These are people with great skills and experiences; when the elderly are able to mentor young adults and children, they have a reason to get up, to keep moving, and to live. Studies show that both the elderly and the ones they mentor have a better quality of life.

Elderly and Veterans (and First Responders) as a Resource

We see Elderly, Veterans, Military, and First Responders and their Families as resources with experiences, training, and the grit we need as peers for other participants and as our future staff.

Hospice and Our Mission

Our work with hospice patients has taught us that a person at the end of life has a clearer perspective of what is important. Many that were unhappy or terrified of dying have told us the things they would have changed or done differently; those that were happy told us why they were content. here is that list:

As you go deeper into what we do, you will see that we are serious about making those points resonate throughout all our programs, and measuring success in more real ways.

"Critical thinking is a desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture."
—Francis Bacon
"Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us."
—Theodore Roosevelt