Rilling, C. and Jordan, D.  (2007) ‘Important Co-leader Skills and Traits on Extended Outdoor Trips as Perceived by Leaders’, Leisure Studies, 26 (2): 193-212.

Because leadership in outdoor adventure is demanding, people often work with co-leaders, and the relationship between them can be important.  There has been little literature so far on the dynamics of co-leadership, however.  This study looks at the skills and traits seen as important by leaders themselves.

There has been a lot of work on leadership in other fields (summarised on pages 194 and 195).  Leadership has been connected to several psychological factors as well.  Situations might also be important.  Three types in particular have emerged: universal leadership, universal leadership and transactional leadership combined, transformational leadership.  There have been several leadership development courses which tried to emphasise particular characteristics including technical skills, environmental skills, understanding skills, human relations skills, conceptual skills and personality traits (196).  Co-leadership involves additional qualities of being able to work in teams, to co-counsel and co-teach.  Again, several variables have been identified as likely to facilitate this, including individual personality traits, age, level of education and several others.  There is also work on the best form of organisational structure, such as democratic or hierarchical.  Other work suggests that co-leadership is actually rare, and that one person usually emerges as the stronger leader.  Interpersonal skills have been highlighted in order to overcome the problems, such as developing respect and appreciation for differences, increased self awareness (197).

This study used a particular technique to gather and then analyse statements about co-leadership from various sources, including experienced leaders themselves.  The technique is called Q-methodology, and it involves first of all developing a ‘concourse’, or population of statements that reflect beliefs and points of view (and theories).  Apparently, ‘the sample and population are more flexible…  Participants…  are selected because their views are operant in the Q-sample – the Q-sample has meaning for them’ (197).  The focus tends to be analysing case studies, which limits the generalisability. [Apparently, there are links with the Delphi technique]

Rank orderings can then be further analysed through correlations or factor analysis.  Thus correlations can be used to see if participants have similar or dissimilar views, a factor analysis can be used to identify distinct points of view.  The patterns can then be interpreted more qualitatively, using notes and interviews.  The technique has been used in the area of education, to identify factors in effective teaching, and to investigate shared perspectives between educational partners (198).

In this case, the concourse was developed both from statement of leaders and the research literature.  44 statements were arranged into five main headings: ‘technical skills; interpersonal skills; conceptual skills; environmental skills; and personality traits’ (198).  A pilot study was conducted and analysis revealed that only 36 statements were actually required to generate the necessary different viewpoints.  17 outdoor leaders participated, and were recruited via the snowball technique.  Each participant completed two Q-sorts, first in response to being asked for the most important skills and traits in an outdoor leader, then the same in a co-leader.  Nine coding options were available.  Full results are displayed on pages 199-200.

Q-sorts were then correlated and the results analysed using factor analysis.  Three factors were extracted and tested to see how much of the variance they explained, and then how they were connected to specific sorts.  Overall, ‘The three factors represented three distinct points of view of the 17 research participants…  Factor one was named “People – Empowering Leaders”, factor two was named “Wilderness – Power (WP) Leaders”, and factor three was named “Universal (UN) Leaders”’ (201).

PE Leaders stressed ‘open communication, honesty and integrity, trust, and community and cooperative spirit’ (203).  They believed it necessary to support and care people, but were worried about excessive courage and charisma.  They thought their skills were harder to learn, perhaps could not even be taught.  If people were empowered, everything else would follow. 

WP leaders saw technical skills as the most important, stressing safety and handling crisis situations.  Handling personal conflict was the only valued interpersonal skill, and sometimes even saw that as a technical problem.  Self awareness was unimportant compared to safety been isolated locations.  Indeed, it was sometimes important ‘to keep the group in an immature stage’ to preserve the leaders authority.

UN leaders were in the minority.  They believed in cooperation, knowledge and helping to better other people.  Individual development and all round skill proficiency seemed important.  Community among the group was seen as crucial.  Characteristics such as individual courage and charisma were less important, especially if it could harm the group.

Analysis of the Q-sorts relating to co-leadership revealed five trends:

  • 1.        Leaders like co-leaders who were like them in valuing the same skill sets rather than a complementary set.
  • 2. Overall, the PE leader was the most preferred type of co-leader, largely for their interpersonal and team building skills.
  • 3.       Only WP leaders chose other WP leaders, and then mostly because they saw a hierarchical relationship developing with co-leaders, according to experience.  In this, they support the research that argues that leadership can never really be equal.  However, hierarchies can be inflexible and slow to respond, as other research shows.  Hierarchies can produce ‘resentful and adversarial environments’ (208).
  • 4.       UN leaders also preferred UN co-leaders, the only ones who did.  They saw co-leadership as part of the group community.  This seems to link with some of the work on transformational leadership, where leaders gradually convert other leaders in a downward cascade.
  • 5.       The WP Leaders were the most open to co-leading with those from another typology, in the interests of a balance between technical and people skills.

There is a variable fit with the research literature on leadership.  It is clear that leaders do divide according to what they value.  However, leaders seem to prefer those who are similar to themselves, especially PE leaders.  PE leaders were also most desirable as co-leaders, while the UN leaders were  least desirable.  ‘It seems apparent that in an outdor leadership setting, people skills are highly desirable in co-leaders, regardless of the orientation of the primary leader’ (209).

Given that the preference for similar leaders might not be the most efficient or logical, trip organized as might need to ensure a match for themselves, to ensure complementary co-leaders.  Co-leadership generally might be foregrounded, since it is little discussed.  Further research would be desirable, including work to see the effects on participants.

Brown, S. (1993) 'A Primer on Q Methodology', in Operant Subjectivity 16(3/4)
McKeown, B and Thomas, D (1988) Q methodology: Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, Newbury Park: Sage