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.