Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Vulnerability and Leadership in Outdoor Education

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Vulnerability and Leadership in Outdoor Education

Article excerpt


  "Vulnerable: Susceptible to being wounded.... Not protected against
  emotional hurt.... Not immune to moral attacks, as of criticism ...
  or of temptations, influences etc .... weak in respect of defence".
  (Macquarie Essential Dictionary, 1999; p 905)

Throughout history, various individuals have shone out as being great leaders. A considerable amount of literature exists which explores the characteristics of these great leaders. To a certain extent, there is always an attempt to create the definitive set of leadership characteristics, identifiable in every great leader, which therefore define the ideal leader in any context (Stogdill; and Kirkpatrick & Locke; both in Wren (ed), 1995). In Outdoor Education too, the ideal leader is described by certain characteristics. If an aspiring leader is to take these lists of ideal characteristics seriously a huge pressure is created to perform to these standards.

Does the characteristic of vulnerability play a part in being a good leader? Assuming that a leader in outdoor education is human, they will have "weaknesses and faults typical of ordinary people" (Macquarie Essential Dictionary, 1999; p 385). Does the leader need to make a decision as to whether to share their vulnerability with their followers? Could the selective sharing of this vulnerability work in a positive way toward the goals of an educational experience in the outdoors?

The predominant view of leadership, despite evidence to the contrary, expects that a leader has authority, be invulnerable, in control. Tom (Jentz & Wofford, 1979), is a school principal divided between his perception of what a leader should be and how he measured up to that:

  "When I respond to the problem of not knowing what to do by faking an
  expertise I do not feel or believe, I risk feeling like a fraud. When
  I admit I do not know, I risk looking like a fool Feeling like a fraud
  opens me to questions about my fitness for leadership. Looking like a
  fool raises the same questions by publicly exposing my private
  incapacities and confirming in the public eye ... that I am unfit for
  leadership ..." (Jentz & Wofford, 1979; p4)

Tom makes an assumption that a quality of a leader is to always have the answer. When he doesn't have the answer, he is afraid, then feels guilty for feeling fear-another inappropriate thing, according to Tom, for a leader to feel. His own assumptions about leadership and what he feels his followers believe a leader should be are the cause of his insecurities here.

Could the vulnerability of a leader in outdoor education, or indeed in any leadership position, be a resource rather than a liability? The Questionnaire examines the opinion of several individuals currently involved in the Outdoor Education Field. They are asked what the characteristics of an outdoor education leader should be, and whether they think vulnerability can be a weakness or a strength to an outdoor education leader.

Literature Review

Characteristics of a Leader

  "The average person who occupies a position of leadership exceeds the
  average member of his group in the following respects:

  1) Intelligence
  2) Scholarship
  3) Dependability in exercising responsibilities
  4) Activity' and social participation
  5) Socio-economic status, (p 128)

  as well as in
  "1) Sociability
  2) Initiative
  3) Persistence
  4) Knowing how to get things done
  5) Self confidence
  6) Alertness to and insight into, situations
  7) Cooperativeness
  8) Popularity
  9) Adaptability
  10) "Verbal facility"
  (Stogdill; in Wren (ed), 1995; p 128)

Many notable men and women of history have had something to say about leadership. Carlyle condoned a powerful leader to whom all subordinate themselves (Wren, 1995); Lao-tzu's selfless and non-directive leadership- "the leader works in any setting without complaint,. …

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