Emotional intelligence, personality and leadership in outdoor adventure education facilitators: A three dimensional model

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Introduction There are clear conceptions in the literature and practice on what traits and behaviours a "good" or “effective” outdoor leader should display (Martin, Cashel, Wagstaff, & Breunig, 2006; Priest & Gass, 2005; Shooter, Sibthorp, & Paisley, 2009). The most prominent compilation of these requirements form the brick wall model by Priest and Gass (1997; 2005) who introduced the terms hard, soft, and meta skills. This model and terminology has been widely in use since then. For a variety of reasons (e.g. the sources on which it is based, and the gender bias in the terminology), its contemporary relevance is questionable. Review of literature There is a vast amount of literature investigating a range of aspects around outdoor leadership. Some authors such as Hobbs and Ewert (2008) present valid alternatives to the brick wall model. A scoping literature search was conducted in order to reveal which alternative terminology – avoiding the hard, soft, meta skill narrative – is used in the wider academic discussion for person-related factors in educators that are shown to promote personal and social competence in the learners (e.g., program participants, students, etc.). Across a range of disciplines, the factors most frequently reported on were personality, leadership, and emotional intelligence (EI). Other factors such as values and decision-making mechanisms were reported on less frequently (e.g., compare Martin et al. 2006; Priest & Gass, 2005). Hobbs and Ewert (2008) raised the point that crucial terms such as "effectiveness" are difficult to define, are certainly not defined alike across all studies, and risk excluding legitimate parts of the field. So for feasibility reasons, and in response to a growing call for more rigour in outdoor adventure education (OAE) research (Baldwin, Persing, & Magnuson, 2004; Ewert & Sibthorp, 2014; Scrutton & Beames, 2015), this project narrows the focus in order to achieve more depth. The core research question then for the present study was to establish conceptual and statistical relationships between personality, leadership, and emotional intelligence in the context of outdoor education. Method The project comprised several elements, one of which is the systematic literature review presented here. All combinations of leadership, personality, and emotional intelligence were used as search terms in the online depositories of the following international journals in OAE: • Journal of Experiential Education • Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning • Australian Journal of Outdoor Education • New Zealand Journal of Outdoor Education • Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership. The search terms were also entered in data-bases such as ERIC, APA PsycNet, SAGE Backfile, and Taylor & Francis online, where they produced thousands of ‘hits’. Considering the limited resources available for this project, these were not automatically included in the systematic review. Instead, the systematic method was complimented by a traditional review of academic literature within and outside the field of OAE. General inclusion criterion for the data analysis was a ‘hit’ by the search terms in the journal data base. Exclusion criteria were apparent low academic standard of the source and the authors' judgment that the context of the article was out of date and/or irrelevant to the current intention. Etic (predefined) themes were any connections of the main person-related factors (i.e. search terms) as well as effectiveness in teaching and/or (outdoor) leadership. Emic (emerging) themes were produced by studies' findings of connections between one of the main topics and other aspects of person-related competences or traits, such as decision-making. Results The thousands of results the search terms produced (duplications included), led to over 150 pieces of academic literature being included into the analysis. Several studies report a positive correlation between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership (e.g. Downey, Papageorgiou, & Stough, 2006; Hayashi & Ewert, 2006; Kerr, Garvin, Heaton, & Boyle, 2006; Mandell & Pherwani, 2003; Palmer, Walls, Burgess, & Stough, 2001). However, some authors' findings disagree with this (Føllesdal & Hagtvet, 2013). Studies disagree over which personality factors (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and consciensciousness) correlate with – mainly transformational – leadership. However, overall, extraversion seems to be positively correlated with transformational leadership (Avolio & Bass, 2004; Bartone, Eid, Johnson, Laberg, & Snook, 2009), and neuroticism negatively. Connections between personality and emotional intelligence are reported with a range of measures for both constructs (e.g. McCrea, 2000; MHS, n.d.). Visuals and further details will be part of the SEER 2016 presentation. Discussion A three dimensional model of reported connections was generated along the three broad axes of leadership, personality, and emotional intelligence. Findings from the systematic search on outdoor educators are highlighted, while literature from other fields of leadership, education, etc. is incorporated to form a wider and more rigorous academic foundation for the model. The synthesis of the findings is mainly qualitative since a wide range of instruments were used in the reviewed papers, and title, description, and factor analyses of scales proved too varied to be accurately quantified. However, statistical data are included where applicable. Also, the literature discusses a range of leadership styles (e.g. transformational, transactional), none of which is universally accepted as the sole 'best' way to lead. This variation has been taken into consideration in the proposed model by presenting conceptual as well as statistical relations where applicable. Currently, situational leadership seems to be favoured, which means a change of style according to a given situational context (Eberly, Johnson, Hernandez, & Avolio, 2013; Hackman & Wageman, 2007). The present model demonstrates the similarities and differences in OAE in comparison with wider educational and leadership research. We argue that this can be used to address research gaps in OAE more specifically, and that the gained insights can be implemented in training facilitators according to the findings, in order to refine their actions and attributes to promote more effective social and personal growth in OAE programme participants. Some aspects of Priest and Gass' (1997) brick wall model are reflected in the data. The combination and connections between specific 'bricks' and elements however are questioned. While it is acknowledged that the current research has a more narrow focus on the personal and social growth of participants than the Priest and Gass' model, common ground is used to suggest appropriate alterations to the model. Limitations There are a number of confounding factors pertinent to the present study. For example, the conception of which behaviours and personality traits constitute 'good' leadership varies between cultures (Ayman & Korabik, 2010; Bartone et al, 2009). Some psychometric measures in the reviewed studies reflect this in their standardisation and item/factor structure (e.g. Edwards, Schyns, Gill, & Higgs, 2012 for the leadership questionnaire MLQ 5X), which weakens the effect of comparing two studies or samples from different cultures. Equally, gender differences are reported in several studies (e.g. Mandell & Pherwani, 2003), that need to be taken into consideration and explored further. Most psychometric measures reported on are not developed for the OAE context, and hence the validity of item structure and standardisation for this target group are questionable. This and further limitations will be presented in more detail. Conclusions There seem to be some clear and predictable relationships between leadership, personality and emotional intelligence in outdoor and other leaders, which we can be employed to train OAE facilitators (and perhaps others) in the most relevant areas. The present study and model are not intended to replace the brick wall model, nor would it be able to. Nevertheless, it is a contribution towards updating our conception of what makes 'good' or 'effective' outdoor leaders in rigorous academic terms (Ewert & Sibthorp, 2014; Scrutton & Beames, 2015). In order to review the robustness of the presented model in the light of the original question, i.e. which of the factors investigated contribute most positively and directly to the social and personal growth in OAE programme participants, a qualitative investigation with case studies from the sample is recommended. Also, further research is needed to determine the impact of cultural and gender variance in outdoor leaders. Funding This research is funded by the European Commission under the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie-Programme, Project Nr. 330385 (COMET). References Avolio, B. J., & Bass, B. (2004). Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Manual and sample set. Third ed. Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden. Ayman, R., & Korabik, K. (2010). Leadership. Why gender and culture matter. American Psychologist, 65(3), 157-170. Baldwin, C., Persing, J., & Magnuson, D. (2004). The role of theory, research, and evaluation in adventure education. Journal of Experiential Education, 26(3), 167-183. Bartone, P. T., Eid, J., Johnson, B. H., Laberg, J. C., & Snook, S. A. (2009). Big five personality factors, hardiness, and social judgment as predictors of leader performance. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 30(6), 498-521. Downey, L. A., Papageorgiou, V., & Stough, C. (2006). Examining the relationship between leadership, emotional intelligence and intuition in senior female managers. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 27(4), 250-264. Eberly, M. B., Johnson, M. D., Hernandez, M., & Avolio, B., J. (2013). An integrative process model of leadership. Examining loci, mechanisms, and event cycles. American Psychologist, 68(6), 427-443. Edwards, G., Schyns, B., Gill, R., & Higgs, M. (2012). The MLQ factor structure in a UK context. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 33(4), 369-382. Ewert, A. W., & Sibthorp, J. (2014). Outdoor Adventure Education. Foundations, Theory, and Research. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Føllesdal, H., & Hagtvet, K. (2013). Does emotional intelligence as ability predict transformational leadership? A multilevel approach. The Leadership Quarterly, 24, 747-762. Hackman, J. R., & Wageman, R. (2007). Asking the right questions about leadership. American Psychologist, 62(1), 43-47. Hayashi, A., & Ewert, A. (2006). Outdoor leaders' emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Journal of Experiential Education, 28(3), 222-242. Hobbs, W. & Ewert, A. (2008). Having the right stuff: What makes a highly effective outdoor leader? Abstracts from the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors, Ninth Biennial Research Symposium, Martinsville, IN, January 11-13, 30-32. Kerr, R., Garvin, J., Heaton, N. & Boyle, E. (2006). Emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 27/4, 265-279. Mandell, B., & Pherwani, S. (2003). Relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership style: A gender comparison. Journal of Business and Psychology, 17(3), 387- 404. Martin, B., Cashel, C., Wagstaff, M., & Breunig, M. (2006). Outdoor Leadership. Theory and Practice. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. McCrea, R. R. (2000). Emotional intelligence from the perspective of the Five-Factor Model of personality. In Bar-On, R., & Parker, J. D. A., The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence. Theory, Development, Assessment, and Application at Home, School, and in the Workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 263-276. MHS / Multi-Health Systems (no date). EQi 2.0. Manual. Toronto, Ontario: MHS. Online available with a license from MHS. Palmer, B., Walls, M., Burgess, Z. & Stough, C. (2001). Emotional intelligence and effective leadership. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 22/1, 5-10. Priest, S., & Gass, M. (1997, 2005). Effective leadership in adventure programing (1st ed., and 2nd ed., respectively). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Scrutton, R., & Beames, S. K. (2015). Measuring the unmeasurable: Upholding rigor in quantitative studies of personal and social development in outdoor adventure education. Journal of Experiential Education, 38(1), 1-18. Shooter, W., Sibthorp, J., & Paisley, K. (2009). Outdoor leadership skills: A program perspective. Journal of Experiential Education, 32(1), 1-13.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2016
Event2016 Symposium on Experiential Education Research - Marriott City Hotel, Minneapolis, MN, USA, United States
Duration: 27 Oct 201630 Oct 2016


Conference2016 Symposium on Experiential Education Research
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityMinneapolis, MN, USA


  • outdoor education
  • adventure education
  • facilitator
  • emotional intelligence
  • leadership
  • personality


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