Wilderness Experience and Leadership Development

By Boy van Droffelaar
Internationally there is a wide acceptance that leadership performance is pivotal in the increasing complexity of organizations and the huge pressures of a world in crisis. Recent corporate and political scandals have prompted media portrayals of a ‘global leadership crisis’, which in turn has led to discussion of the nature of leadership, with both its advantages and disadvantages (Kets de Vries, Balazs, 2011).

The convergence of these challenges have in combination elicited calls for more positive forms of leadership in institutions and organizations to restore confidence in all levels of leadership (Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, & Peterson, 2007). In the realm of positive psychology theories, research on the Full Range of Leadership Model (Bass, 1985) and studies on, almost overlapping, constructs like transformational leadership (Burns, 1978), ethical leadership (Brown, Trevino, 2006) and authentic leadership (Avolio, 2003) have given support to the notion that indeed leadership can be learned and that all constructs share the common perspective of greater commitment, organizational citizen behavior and job satisfaction of followers, leading to sustainable and veritable contributions to organizational performance. In these studies, self-awareness and self-regulation are mentioned as ‘root’ attributes to leadership development.

Qualitative research of bringing people into a context of being connected with nature, such as going into the wilderness to experience solitude, find guidance, and to help clarify values and personal identity, has indicated promising results in greater self-awareness and self-regulated positive behaviors, fostering self-development. However, there are hardly any scholarly articles reporting nature experience benefits and its empirical evidence on samples of organizational leaders.

Therefore this study aims to contribute to fill this gap by examining the relationship between the emergence of self-awareness related to wilderness experience, and the positive development of leadership behavior.

The aim of this study is to gain empirical plausibility by examining the relationship between participation in wilderness experience and the development of authentic transformational leadership behavior. It will adopt qualitative and quantitative data research methods on samples of leaders from private and public organizations, who have conducted the Wilderness Leadership Transformation Program of the Foundation of Natural Leadership (N > 350). The results of this study will foster better understanding of the role and its importance of emerging self-knowledge by nature experience and its contribution to the development of effective, genuine, values-based leadership in these times of complexity and crisis.

prof.dr. Rene van der Duim
dr. Maarten Jacobs