Leadership Development Via Adventure Education

By Nik Green

Nik is a member of the  Evolution Team, has worked extensively with adventure training in a schools environment and is an NLP Master Practitioner and certified NLP coach.









Personal Development

If you have ever been on a well designed and implemented adventure education programme you will be well aware of the benefits that such a course can bring.  Some of the lessons are realised immediately during the course and many lesson are not fully appreciated days, months or often years afterwards as the memories of specific situations are recalled.

The outcomes of engaging in an adventure education programme have been researched (Hopkins & Putnam 1993) and include the following: improvement in self esteem, raised confidence levels, increased levels of personal motivation, willingness to embrace change and situations with uncertain outcomes

Moral Development


To better understand what is meant by moral development the following definition may assist:

“(a) psychological construct that characterises the process by which people determine that one course of action in a particular situation is morally right and another course of action is wrong”

(Rest, Thoma, and Edwards 1997)

A vital aspect of any developmental programmes is that delegates understand how their choices of action will lead to consequences to themselves and those around them.  This is clearly highlighted in the outdoor environment when ineffective navigational skills due to a lack of competence or concentration can lead to the whole group becoming late for lunch or wandering around in the dark, wet and cold.

Adventure education provides plentiful opportunities to role play abstract scenarios within which the objectives can only be achieved with the full and willing co-operation of all members of a highly motivated team.  The Shelterbox Dartmoor Challenge is an excellent example of such a scenario.

Group Development

Outdoor based team tasks provide a valuable window into group processes.  These processes can include the stages of team development (Tuckman 1977) and the importance of having a well balanced range of differing team roles (Belbin 1993)

It is possible through a well designed programme to accelerate and magnify the learning outcomes for teams enabling lessons that would take months to learn in the traditional work context to be understood through effective reviewing in a matter of hours or days.

In the Shelterbox Dartmoor Challenge group members are required to transport themselves and the contents of a Shelterbox 30 miles across Dartmoor using limited resources.  Each team member is required to fulfil specific roles and to use their individual skills.  If the group communicates and functions well the task is achieved within the required timescales and in a safe manner.  If the group is dysfunctional because one person dominates or the team lacks required skills then the group processes break down and the team fail.

Leadership Development


The development of leadership ability through adventure education can be broken down into two areas.

Internal leadership attributes – motivation, organisational skills, personal responsibility etc.

External leadership attributes – leading others, technical skills, facilitation and coaching skills.

Johnson and Johnson (2002) suggest five leadership issues that all effective leaders must grapple with:


  1. Challenging the status quo i.e. making change happen
  2. Inspiring a mutual vision
  3. Empowering members through cooperative teamwork
  4. Leading by example
  5. Encouraging the personal development of team members in personal expertise


Well designed and meaningful adventure education programmes provide the opportunity to develop and practice the key leadership competencies mentioned above within a safe environment where mistakes can be reviewed and eliminated without the consequences that exist within the real work context.

The Leadership programme and the Shelterbox challenge itself is a metaphor for the journey a leader and an organisation must travel.

This journey includes:


Description Organisational requirement Leadership Tool
Knowing where you are now (Point A) Internal and external analysis of the current organisational environment and context SWOT AnalysisPESTLE Analysis

Porters five forces model

Knowing where you trying to get to (Point B) Internal and external analysis of the future organisation environment and context Setting SMART objectivesFuture basing

Well formed outcomes

Getting from point A to point B Creating and implementing the most efficient and effective plan to take the organisation from its current location to pre-determined point in the future Performance ManagementProject planning

Effective management

Effective communication skills

To learn more about how to use adventure training in a schools environment visit the NLP AT Work conference in September 2011

conference details

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