The outdoor education literature commonly discusses what it means to be an effective outdoor leader and judgements about the effectiveness or quality of outdoor leadership and leaders are an everyday occurrence in outdoor leaders’ professional lives. The basis upon which qualitative judgements are made about leaders and/or leadership and the meaning inferred by the use of various terms in descriptions of leaders and/or leadership is, however, not necessarily clear in outdoor education literature. With a variety of terms used to describe leadership effectiveness, in this paper we aim to provide consistency in describing ‘levels’ of leadership through the use of the terms effective, exemplary and extraordinary. Our discussion addresses the core competencies associated with effective leadership and the application of theories of leadership in outdoor leadership literature that has explored effectiveness. We also direct our attention to prospective links between conceptually more sophisticated understandings of leadership and qualitative differences in leaders and leadership. Finally, we present a conceptual framework developed from this review of literature to more clearly distinguish levels of leadership and facilitate inquiry into extraordinary outdoor leaders and leadership. Through this paper and the framework presented we seek to inform future research and ongoing leadership training and practice in outdoor education and other fields.