Learning leadership: Becoming an outdoor leader
First-time outdoor leadership is transformational and involves two major foci: interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships
This research is based on the understanding that the process of becoming a leader may be qualitatively different than being a leader. With this in mind, researchers in Norway explored factors influencing initial leadership experiences of first-time outdoor education (friluftsliv) students. The goal was to gain a better understanding of pedagogical approaches that would support the development of outdoor leadership skills of university students in formal education settings.
The research participants were recruited from a friluftsliv program at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. Friluftsliv, a Scandinavian term for cultural practices of being physically active outdoors, is strongly associated with Norwegian national identity, cultural transmission, and an ethic of being close to nature. Five students participated in semi-structured interviews focusing on their first-time leadership experiences that occurred during their study program. Interviewees were asked to think back to their initial awareness of becoming an outdoor leader and to talk about their related experiences. Discussion during the interviews was also based on experiences the interviewees had recorded in learning journals they kept while participating in the friluftsliv program.
The interviewees identified eight major attributes of outdoor leaders, with the most important attributes relating to the responsibilities of relating to people, of exercising authority, the quality of flexibility in leadership style, and the responsibility for judgement and decision making. The other four major attributes were responsibility for planning and preparation for group activity, having the technical skills required for the activity, maintaining one’s self-confidence in being a leader, and maintaining a leadership identity.
Data also indicated that becoming an outdoor leader involves three transformations: transformation in knowledge of leadership; transformation in interpersonal judgment; and transformation in self-knowledge. These transformations can be complicated by the educational setting. The outdoor educational setting required students to think of themselves as both leader and team member at the same time. This – as highlighted by the authors — is one indication that the educational context influences the experiences of first-time outdoor leadership. Interviewees expressed the ideas that the process of becoming a leader was enhanced more from the experience of assuming the role of a leader than from leadership knowledge gained through academic study. From their experiences of first-time outdoor leadership, they gained a better understanding of the multiple tasks and responsibilities required by leaders in the outdoor education field. They also recognized that interacting positively with people and creating good relations within the group was a significant skill for outdoor leaders. In terms of self-knowledge, students gained a new awareness of their motivations for leadership and their beliefs about friluftsliv. Their expressed motivations did not include engaging people in environmental thinking. This contrasts with what the Norwegian friluftsliv leadership literature suggests.
Further research is needed to gain a better understanding of the contexts in which first-time outdoor leadership occurs. The authors offer other implications for pedagogy and suggestions for future research, especially in relation to refining understanding of the nature of the transformations found in this study.
Enoksen, E., Lynch, P., (2018). Learning leadership: Becoming an outdoor leader. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 18(2),