August interview with Carl
So What Makes Carl Griesser Tick?
Carl Griesser, MKPs Executive Director,
is a self-described complex
Fortunately for our organization, this
complex critter keeps things simple for
us organizationally. If youve ever had any
kind of business dealings with MKP, youve
interacted with Griesser - and you know he has a
straight forward way of getting things done.
We cant all be extroverted certified
leaders traveling the world to do NWTA weekends.
Somebodys got to mind the store. Thats
where Griesser comes in.
I bring a balance of energies to this
work, he began. In the Project we talk
about a dichotomy or paradox between men with
charisma and those with organizational skills. I
think of it as a continuum where the training
leaders tend to be more outwardly passionate and
act from the heart. Then there are people skilled
with dealing with organizational detail in a
corporate non-profit world. I tend to blend the two
of those energies well. I think in both those
In conversation, Carl does not very often
shoot from the hip. He is meticulous in
the use of his words, methodical in his thinking
process, and even slightly dry in his delivery.
It had just finished raining in Arizona, where
Griesser lives, when we talked by telephone.
July and August are the monsoon season in
Arizona, he said. The humidity rolls in
from down south, from the Gulf of California. We
get these recurring thunderstorms, small, very
localized, that go ripping through and dumping
water wherever they happen to be. And not five feet
away itll be dry. The contrast gives us some
incredibly beautiful skies.
During the summer months the Arizona crowd,
the Zonies, pour into the more
temperate climate of San Diego. Griesser had
recently returned from a trip to Pacific Beach with
his 16-year-old daughter.
It was a very good time
we had four
days of kicking back on the beach, he
recalled. My daughter was a cave dweller
until about noon. So, I worked in the mornings
until she woke up. The cloud cover would usually
abate by noon and wed enjoy the sunny days
In 1997, Griesser was initiated into MKP from
the Northwest Center. He came to the attention of
MKPs Executive Committee when he authored a
letter outlining ways the Project could improve its
Safety was a big part of my getting deeply
involved in this organization, he stated.
After I went through the weekend I staffed 3
or 4 times within a year and a half. Based on those
staffings I wrote a seven-page letter outlining
ways I thought the Project should clean up its act
regarding safety. One of my recommendations was
that the Project form a Safety Advisory Council.
Chuck Heisinger, the Executive Director at the time
said, Sure, why dont you lead it?
[Chuckling] I try to use that technique on
if they come up with a good idea,
I get them to do it.
If anyone knows about safety, its
Griesser. He is an MD who was boarded in family
practice and experienced in emergency medicine. He
went to medical school in 1980 when he was
Before that he worked for Outward Bound in
Texas, North Carolina, and Ontario. He moved to
Tucson in 1977 and ran the wilderness program for
Vision Quest, a large residential treatment program
for troubled youth.
I went into medicine largely out of fear
that I couldnt support myself doing what I
was doing in outdoor education, he said.
I was good at what I did in medicine; the
patients liked me a lot because of who I am, but it
wasnt something I was called to do. I was
called to growth work in the wilderness, but not to
medicine. I spent a lot of time in medicine trying
to make it my bliss. I never succeeded. There was
never a day I woke up glad that I got to do
So when Chuck Heisinger announced in the fall of
2000 that he was stepping down as Executive
Director, Griesser thought it was an
Id been looking for ways out of what
I was doing and for awhile I thought I would become
a therapist, Griesser noted. Initially
I thought I didnt have a chance of being
selected, but a couple guys in the Northwest
community convinced me to apply. So I did.
For two years Griesser supplemented his income
by working occasionally in the ER at a local
hospital. Two years ago he walked away from
medicine. The Project needed all the energy I
could give it, and I decided it was time to let go
of the financial crutch, he said.
From his vantage point, hes seen the
maturation of the organization in recent years.
I havent been around long, he
said, as a bit of a qualifier. Yet in my
judgment, Ive seen a gradual steady
improvement in our councils; Leaders, Centers, and
Project. The process has been cleaned up a little
more each time. Were maturing as a group and
as individual leaders. Certainly you dont get
better group process without getting better
As Executive Director, Griesser initiated much
of the better group process.
Three years ago I started asking for
feedback after every Glen Ivy meeting, he
said. Weve then taken the feedback and
used it to try and make the process better.
Thats one of my passions. I like to think of
MKP as a learning organization. Before these
efforts, the Project had not been very good at
gathering and using the feedback in meaningful
ways. Ive been championing this process as a
way of improving our leadership.
Griesser said he doesnt think of MKP
International as a community but as a
bunch of communities.
To a large extent the community that gets
created is at the Center level, he explained.
There is a sense of community at the Project
level, but its a more tenuous kind of
community. The real sense of community comes from
rubbing shoulders with somebody week in and week
out. For me, I have a tight community with the
International Executive Committee. Even still, we
only get together every three months.
The Center Council also creates a form of
community but it is also less connected than the
local Centers, he added. Griesser said there is a
concentrated effort to build bridges between
communities with phone calls and list serves, but
theyre not the best ways to create community.
He has championed the use of open
technology discussions at our conferences,
which is another way of bringing us together.
I dont get any traction around
community until Im face to face with
somebody, Griesser stated. I cant
answer right now how well look as one large
community. I think it will look like a whole bunch
of different experiments that grow out of the
creativity of each Center. Houston doesnt
want to do what San Diego wants to do. They each
have there own ideas about what community means to
them, and theyre going about it in their own
Carls outdoor educational training gave
him experience in working with smaller groups.
I have tremendous trust in what small
groups of people can do, he related.
And for me, within this organization,
thats a huge paradox because I believe in the
small group model, yet Im the guy who gets
identified as Mr. Top Down. I deliver
the policies that a lot of men in the Project love
to hate. I see the reality around that. The paradox
is that the ExCom is in some ways just another
small group which has been empowered to look at the
big picture of MKP. We work intensely thinking
about what the best process is for what we do. That
can mean a lot of different things, from
reconsidering our minimum age requirement (Which
was changed at Breckinridge.) to wrestling with the
legal and ethical issues or what we do. So the
ExCom is my small group context, and we sometimes
have the arrogance to say that what this small
group has decided must apply to all the other small
Griesser related a story from a book edited by
Deborah Ajango, of the faculty of the University of
Alaska Anchorage, entitled Lessons Learned: A
Guide to Accident Prevention and Crisis
Response. (Griesser recommended it for anyone
involved in MKP leadership; its available
There are a lot of parallels with what
their outdoor educational program experienced and
what weve been experiencing in MKP over the
last 20 years, he said. What happened
there was a horrible accident. A group of 12
inexperienced climbers and two instructors from the
school was descending a snow filled gully. They
were roped up, but werent protected in a way
that was up to current standards. So when one man
began to slide down the 1,000 foot snow field, one
by one all 14 were pulled off. They ended up in a
pile of ice axes and crampons. Two students died
and many of the others were seriously injured. The
folks running the program there, to their credit,
decided to take on the process of figuring out what
went wrong, and they put their findings into this
book. It offers many perspectives on what went
wrong, not just with the accident, but more
importantly, with the outdoor program which had
outgrown its communication systems.
I think what happened with their program has
close parallels with how MKP has changed over the
Griesser said he learned valuable lessons from
In the beginning they only had a half
dozen instructors that did the outings. When the
instructors and students got back from their climbs
theyd have dinner together and talk about
what had worked and what didnt work. It was a
great feedback system right there in a bar or
restaurant over a beer. As the program grew, they
ended up with dozens of instructors. They were very
skilled, but they didnt have close
connections with each other anymore. They were too
big to sit with each other face to face, and they
didnt realize what was happening. As time
went on, the safety systems became looser, and
eventually a serious, potentially avoidable
The parallel with MKP is that we are no
longer a group of a dozen leaders who not only lead
the weekends but also lead our communities.
Weve become a very large organization with
over 120 certified leaders and co-leaders, plus
lots of Center Directors and Administrators. Some
of the leaders get together on a regular basis, but
nowhere near all of us. So the opportunity to talk
over best practices has become stretched really,
really thin. This story is part of what drives me
and it guides how I think about policies. I want us
to create systems which will minimize the chances
of a serious physical or emotional injury. I
believe its possible to do that without
compromising the heart and soul of our trainings,
but I know others think this kind of structure is
killing MKP. I dont think these are
contradictions; we need both.
Good advice from a doc.
So what does Griesser do on a day to day basis?
He said he liked the multi-faceted
aspects of the job that keep him on the phone
nearly 20 hours a week. When we talked he had other
bridge calls he was anticipating that day.
Today Ill be on a bridge call with
two lawyers and two insurance people clarifying
issues related to our insurance policy, then,
Ill be on a call this afternoon talking about
the center administrator software system created by
Philip Baker from Northern California. Its a
data base system for managing trainings and
Centers. This data base allows weekend coordinators
to make a lot of organizing decision related to
schedules and whos in what role and
whos in what I-group.
All of a sudden, Im not sure Id want
Griessers job. But he seems to enjoy it.
This is definitely a calling, he
declared. I continue to be excited about
doing it. Its fun to deal with so many
different things and be associated with such a high
caliber of men. The leaders that I work with are
phenomenal with their dedication and passion
to service. The greatest blessing is being able to
work with groups of men who bring clarity through
so many different perspectives. So many different
issues get processed when were making
decisions. Its wonderful to be with men who
are willing to listen to each others
perspectives until the right action becomes
apparent. This doesnt happen enough in the
I think Im most frustrated by a
streak of grandiosity that shows up in our work. So
many men in MKP want to be seen. I think of it as a
sovereign wound, a need that grew out of not having
been blessed as a little boy. Theres a
constant need to be blessed as an adult. Sitting at
the top of the pile, to a lot of men, Im Dad.
Some men are so desperate for blessing, and so
blind to their neediness, that the way they go
about trying to get blessed is almost always
I claim some of that sovereign wound. How about
One of the Executive Directors
responsibilities is to visit local centers.
Griessers trip to Europe in March and April
was a whirlwind adventure.
The visits were too short. I flew into
Paris, spent a couple days there, met with men on
their council, attended an NWTA graduation, and a
very intense I-Group; then after each meeting I did
what the French do, went out for dinner at 10:30
pm! Billy Hill, our International Vice-Chair joined
me in Paris and we traveled by train to Hamburg,
Germany. We spent a couple of days with the
German-speaking men, joining an all-day staff
meeting at their new training site. We then drove
to Frankfurt and flew to London where we met with
members of the UK Council, before flying to Ireland
for the first NWTA in that country. I had a
wonderful time connecting with the men in the
Part of what I do best, and whats
needed the most, is to help men find solutions to
problems within their communities. Its
preferable to do it in person, but sometimes
its on the phone just working with men who
are wrestling with community issues. I get to make
suggestions about things that have worked in other
Centers, and thats fun, partly because
its their problem. I dont have to
settle it, but I can offer perspective. There are
so many patterns that reoccur in MKP Centers. I can
serve as a clearing house of information. Im
a network, and a networker. There are so many
little bits of information that are funneled
As he spoke, going to Europe sounded like less
of a perk than an enormous responsibility.
Visiting Centers is part of what Im
supposed to do, and linking with centers outside of
the states is especially important because of the
distances involved, he continued. My
sense is they have less of a connection to MKP. I
think Centers in the U.S. have connections to other
Centers even if they dont feel very connected
to the Project. Outside of the states, I think
Centers feel more alone.
At the July Conference in Breckinridge, Griesser
seemed changed somehow from when Id seen him
at Glen Ivy. He seemed more relaxed and connected.
I asked him about it. He told me that back in
February, he was struggling through a difficult
divorce. In December he moved from Ashland, Oregon
to Tucson, Arizona to be with his young
I was in a painful place in February.
After ten years in Oregon, I had to accept that my
wife wasnt there for me in the ways I wanted
her to be. My understanding has come slowly and
mostly through work in my I-Group. Like on Friday
night Accountability, they asked me What are
her actions saying to you? The message
wasnt what I wanted to hear, because I have
tremendous respect and love for her. I was also
dealing with the loss of my I-Group. I dont
form friendships easily, and I was grieving both of
those losses deeply.
There must have been some healing since Glen
People have said they appreciated my humor
in Breckingridge, he responded. And I
think were listening to each other better. I
think were listening with our
So what makes Carl Griesser tick?
I like to take adventurous
vacations, he intoned. My deepest
connection to spirit comes through being in the
wilderness. Pretty much every day I do a 45 minute
walk in the desert, right outside my door. The
arroyo is pretty wild; Ive seen Gila
Monsters, some beautiful big snakes, coyotes. It
keeps me grounded and its food for my soul.
Its where I do a lot of sorting out. I come
away from the walks with clarity for what needs to
happen on lots of levels. And when Im able to
take longer trips into the wilderness, its
like diving into a deep well. I also do some yoga
and some sitting meditation. I did Hollow Bones a
couple years ago and value that practice.
I asked about what it was like living in
Im enjoying the men Im getting
to know here, he said. My Nordic blood
isnt real fond of Tucson summers, so Im
looking forward to the weather cooling down. I
recall that happens sometime in December.
Getting to know Carl Griesser has been a
blessing for me. The New Warrior Journal is his
brainchild. He called and invited me to edit the
publication almost a year ago.
I believe the Project needs a vehicle to
talk to itself and to hear itself, he
commented. In particular, Ive wanted to
create a way to bridge the schism between men who
are involved at the Center level and men who are
working at the Project level. There are men who
dont have a sense of what the ExCom does.
They ask Why do we give them money?
Im hoping The New Warrior Journal can help
them see the bigger picture of our passions and
help us understand their perspectives. And, if
possible, deepen everyones
So, many thanks to Carl for allowing himself to
be da man for September. It also happens to be his
birthday month. Wish him a happy one.
© 2007 Reid Baer
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
Tale is also a newspaper journalist, a poet
with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide,
and a novelist with his first book released this
month entitled Kill
The Story. Baer has been
a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and
currently edits The New Warrior Journal for
The ManKind Project www.mkp.org
He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife
Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.
Menstuff® is a registered trademark of Gordon
©1996-2019, Gordon Clay