The Leadership Pathway:
An Epistemological Exploration of
Outdoor Leadership and
Using Theory Elaboration
The thesis focuses on theory elaboration and knowledge creation on the part of a practitioner-researcher examining leadership in the outdoors and on expedition. It aims to contribute to an epistemological shift in how individuals approach their development as leaders and intends to generate critical thinking in relation to the leader / participant relationship. Central to this thesis is the examination of emerging paradigms created by the enquiry process with the belief that research can inform practice, and reflection on that practice creates understanding that is applicable to future real world settings.
The research involved gathering data from key stakeholders, including the participants and leaders of outdoor education and expedition programmes, using both quantitative and qualitative techniques in order to achieve methodological diversity. Under investigation were three distinct and logically separable, yet mutually relevant perspectives. Firstly, how participants perceived leadership behaviour and what the associated effects were. Secondly, how practitioners perceived their own approach to leadership and whether an individual’s epistemological beliefs influence their worldviews. Thirdly, what relational dynamics existed between the process of leadership and the formation of a successful team as viewed in an expedition context.
A research cohort was generated by participants from schools in Wales attending 28-day overseas youth development expeditions as provided by Outlook Expeditions. Further data collection occurred by approaching established practitioners and expedition leaders in the field of outdoor education using on-line forums to give access to a UK wide sample to discuss issues emergent in contemporary leadership and expedition culture. Lastly, the investigation process adopted a phenomenographic approach with 12 participants engaging in a wilderness sea kayaking journey in Alaska to explore the dynamics that exist on expedition.
The findings highlight a number of important considerations for leadership practitioners. In order for leaders to be effective, they require a sophisticated understanding of which behaviours are most applicable as participants mature through the development process. Awareness is also needed of how epistemological beliefs affect the cognitive processes of those in a leadership role thus influencing the leader’s practices and behaviours. It is highly valuable that leaders have the capacity to be adaptive and they are motivated to act flexibly in any given situation. Participants have values, beliefs and identities that ascribe personal meaning, direction and motivation to an expedition setting. Therefore, good leadership in the outdoors depends on the integration of these personal values, beliefs and participants’ identity along with the possession of affective skills to complement them.
The thesis draws conclusions surrounding each of the studies, identifies a number of implications for leadership development and makes recommendations that centre on creating a leadership pathway framed by a competency grid. An alternate methodology for future research is also proposed.