Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


A new type of outdoor leadership is being heralded into the 21st Century. In other sectors, leadership theory has moved ahead in search of this ‘new’ leadership while outdoor leadership has continued to rely on more traditional leadership theories. With considerable research existing into effective outdoor leadership, the purpose of this study was to explore leadership success beyond effective, in particular, the fundamental nature of ‘extraordinary’ outdoor leadership through the identification of key characteristics, values, skills and behaviours of these leaders.

The existence of leadership that was more successful than effective was identified in the outdoor leadership literature, however, it remained eluded to and undescribed. Traditionally, the outdoor leadership literature has relied on situational leadership theory, conditional outdoor leadership theory and the core competencies in the describing and teaching of effective leadership to others. More recently a need to engage with contemporary theories of leadership in order to improve our understanding of effective outdoor leadership has been indicated (e.g., transformational leadership theory, authentic leadership and emotional intelligence).

Simultaneously, the broader leadership literature (business and management) has been engaging with the contemporary theories of leadership (transformational, authentic and spiritual) for some time and consistently described leaders as effective, exemplary and to some extent, extraordinary. These levels of leadership success were described in ways that linked directly with the three contemporary theories of leadership and resulted in the clarification of the three levels. In addition, the intelligences (rational, emotional and spiritual) were consistently described as significantly contributing to understanding each of the contemporary leadership theories and hence extraordinary outdoor leaders.

In order to provide direction and focus for the study, a conceptual framework was developed. The framework drew together the outdoor leadership literature, the contemporary theories of leadership, the intelligences, and aligned these with the levels of leadership success identified (effective, exemplary, and extraordinary). In addition, it provided a new categorisation of the leadership theories: head, heart, body and soul. This categorisation emphasised the way in which leaders approached their leadership practice and linked directly with the contemporary theories and the descriptions of the various leadership levels of success. Utilising the conceptual framework, the characteristics, values, skills and behaviours of the participants were determined through the research process.

This qualitative case study followed five extraordinary outdoor leaders as nominated by members within the industry. The research was located within the interpretive paradigm and reported in a narrative style. This methodological approach was selected as it allowed the extraordinary outdoor leaders to be studied in context and encouraged the individual to remain central. Data collection occurred across two main phases. Phase 1 involved an online or phone interview of approximately 40 minutes with each of the participants. Phase 2 consisted of an observation of 2-5 days followed by a face to face interview of one to two hours duration. Additional documents (e.g., program information) were collected across both phases. The Phase 1 early findings resulted in a long list of attributes that were later clarified through Phase 2 into four key elements of extraordinary outdoor leadership.

The four key elements were: awareness, relationships, intuition and spirituality. The defining characteristic that emerged was awareness of self, others and nature and similarly, the value seen to be essential was relationships with self, others and nature. Intuition was identified as the key skill possessed by all leaders, one that could be learnt and taught. The dominant behaviour identified was spirituality which encompassed who they are and how they interact with the larger world: humble, caring, and living for a greater purpose. These key elements indicated links between the various contemporary leadership theories and confirmed the conceptual framework. In particular, spiritual leadership theory proved to be the identifying theory in relation to extraordinary leadership success.

Recommendations for further research, policy and professional practice development included the need to develop a clear model to support the development of extraordinary outdoor leadership incorporating the findings from this study. In addition, further research into the role of praxis in outdoor leadership was also identified as an area that would contribute to understanding extraordinary outdoor leadership practice. While many other areas have been identified, it would be noteworthy to research the barriers faced by novice outdoor leaders as they strive to become an extraordinary outdoor leader.