Another leadership theory

  • Interaction-expectation theory
  • Comprehensive view of leadership
  • Comprehensive-interaction-expectation theory

The outdoor setting places demands upon both leaders and participants. Most people don't generally go out in cold rainy weather, camp in snow, paddle small craft in icy rushing water, walk in the desert, or place themselves in environmentally stressful conditions. Similarly, many people don't often give themselves the chance to experience serene and peaceful sunsets, see a black sky studded with brilliant stars, or immerse themselves in the spiritual silence of a forest of tall trees. This interaction with the outdoors generates demands on humans that are not common today, and has a direct impact on the relationship between the participant, the leader and the current situation.

The situational leadership theory offers leaders in any field a way of thinking about leadership and improving their leadership skills. However, there are additional dimensions to consider in the outdoor leadership context. Leading in the outdoors involves a numbers of issues which are not usually applicable with groups in a work or community context. These include:

  • the outdoor setting itself
  • the perceived and real risks of the activity in the natural environment
  • the extended period of contact between leader and group
  • the generally voluntary nature of participation in the activity.

Risk, especially perceived risk, is an integral part of outdoor adventure activities (see also Chapters 1 and 6). It is often a major reason why people participate in an activity. Leaders of adventurous activities must be able to recognise the absolute risks, balance the real and perceived risks, be aware of group members’ perceptions of those risks, and determine the level at which each group member should enjoy participation in the activity at a given moment. When the level of perceived risk is higher than the participant has experienced before, or wants at that moment, there is likely to be an adverse impact on the person, the group and the leader.

Most adventurous outdoor activities extend over quite long periods of time. From weekend camps to extended wilderness trips, the interactions which occur in that time are different from the interactions which commonly occur in other types of groups. There are changes in relationships, in expectations and in roles, all of which alter the way the leader and the group members interact over the time of the activity. The changes may be either positive or negative. A useful model must be able to accommodate all these changes.

A model developed by Jordan (1989) combines the main elements of two earlier leadership theories to create a view of outdoor leadership as both a dynamic and interactive process. She argues that the combination of group-based theory and a situation-based theory more clearly illustrates the complex interactions between the leader and group members in any situation at any given time.

Group-based ‘interaction-expectation’ theory

The group-based ‘interaction-expectation’ theory of leadership suggests that all members of a group have expectations that each will act according to their role in the group. The extent to which this occurs engenders further expectations among all group members. ‘Followers continually expect leaders to accept leader responsibilities and to exhibit effective leadership skills.’ (Jordan 1989 p. 40). Leaders also expect their followers to give them the status which they see as appropriate for a leader. If the group gives this status and recognition to another group member then the designated leader’s power diminishes significantly.

The level and form of interaction varies between group members and leader, within the group itself and over the time that the group remains together. At one end of the scale there may be unquestioning acceptance of ‘normal’ roles and behaviours, with little or no direct communication between leader and followers. At the other end of the scale there can be serious role confusion where leader and group members are so involved in each other’s expected roles that there is no clear differentiation between them. Optimally, a good interaction between leader and group members will lead to equal acceptance and reinforcement of appropriate roles and behaviours. This can lead, in turn, to the strengthening of the leader’s and group’s effectiveness.

‘Comprehensive’ view of leadership

The ‘comprehensive’ view of leadership is a situation-based theory which identifies the interactions of the leader, the followers, and the situation. Where the three components intersect determines the appropriate leadership style, as shown in Figure 49.1.

Each of these three components contains a range of elements, all of which are essential for effective use of the model. The leader component includes the leader’s knowledge, skills and abilities, his/her own needs, experience, flexibility in use of styles, and sources of power. The situation component includes the outside forces acting upon the group, the group goals, the methods and processes of the group, and the environment in which the experience is occurring. The group component includes the knowledge, skills and abilities of each group member, and their needs, experience and maturity related to the task.

Each of these components can also accommodate the effects of real and perceived risk upon participants. The real risk is part of the situation. Each individual’s perception of risk is related to their own needs, experience and maturity. These interact with the leader’s skills, experience and maturity to indicate some effective leadership responses.

Comprehensive–interaction–expectation theory

Combining the main elements of the Comprehensive model and the Interaction– Expectation model, Jordan proposed the comprehensive–interaction–expectation (CIE) theory of outdoor leadership as shown in Figure 49.2. The model generated by this theory highlights the dynamic nature of the interactions which are constantly taking place during the activity. Each interaction acts as a causal agent impacting on the leader’s style and the group’s recognition, acceptance and reinforcement of leader and group member role behaviours. The leader of the group can move and change their style of leadership to suit the way that the group is behaving, the way the situation is evolving, and the way the interactions within the group are affecting individuals. Flexibility in choice of leadership style according to how your perception of the group and the environment will yield the most effective and safe responses for the group at that time.

An example
The effectiveness of the CIE model in accounting for the outdoor setting, the perceived and real risks in the activity and the extended interaction of the activity can be seen using the example of a sudden and severe rain or hail storm during a weekend bushwalk. If the storm occurs early in the weekend, when the group members expect the leader to be more directive and clear in their interactions with the group, individuals would expect the leader to stop the group and tell them to put on rain gear, to look for shelter, and perhaps to wait for the storm to pass.

Over the weekend, as individuals within the group change their perceptions of the risk of the activity because they are immersed in it, as the extended time gives individuals the chance to interact more with each other and the leader, and as individuals become more comfortable just being in the outdoors, the leader can change his/her style to suit the changing needs of the group.

If the same sudden storm occurred on the second day of the trip, the leader, walking in the middle of the group, might call out ‘hold on’ to the front walkers, and everyone easily understands that rain gear and maybe shelter are needed. Later in a week or two-week long trip, the leader may not need to call out, because the group would be comfortable in the environment and more attuned to their own and each other’s needs, and rain gear would be just put on.

To understand leadership and what makes effective leaders requires you to reflect upon your actions when you are leading, and on the actions of other leaders when you observe them in the field. It is very helpful to consciously focus your mind on the principles underlying any leadership situation. If you choose to examine any incident in this way you will soon improve your ability to make better decisions on a whole range of situations. The example given here may appear to be just simple commonsense. When you consider it in the context of the CIE theory you can also appreciate the logic of each of the behaviours described. When you understand the factors involved you will be able to choose more effective responses which will be more likely to produce the most satisfactory outcome for the total group.


Jordan D. 1989. A new vision for outdoor leadership theory. Leisure Studies, 8, 35–47.