The Outdoor leader: A Modern Perspective on Leadership

As a Mountaineering Instructor I am called upon to train the Mountain Leaders, Single Pitch and Climbing Wall supervisor of the future. As part of those syllabi covering the basic qualities and model of leadership. In modern terms we use what might be described as ‘traditional models’, and whilst for the purpose of the award these have proven more than adequate, there is a newer outlook on leadership in sporting and working situations, all of which have been seen to link to high levels of performance.

The traditional approach is to describe the style of leadership that is appropriate for the terrain and group. So a Mountain Leader might be democratic or lazzezfaire during easy terrain like well defined footpaths, as they go onto steeper more complex and risk laden terrain they switch or evolve into more autocratic or directive leadership in order to manage the group.

These polarised leadership style are more than adequate for the Mountain Leader, and are often simplified by describing them as telling and asking or one of my favourites Ghengis and Gandi. There is a third style of leadership that I often cover but warn of its use and that is the sells approach.

Basically, by giving the group a choice, we can get them on board with the basics of decision making. Used well it is a very powerful tool, however used badly it has the potential to lead to an inappropriate choice. In that the leader can skew the choices by making one sound more appetising than the other, which if done for the benefit of the group is fine. If the leader ‘sells’ the day out they want rather than a day that is best for the group and its aims means that the group wasn’t at the centre of the decision making process.

These tradition leadership models, are great for the general work we as leaders and instructors carry out. However often we are tasked with using the outdoors through climbing or hillwalking as a vehicle for personal and social education. As such there are several new approaches to leadership that has several dimensions. I have chosen to look at Transformational Leadership (TL).

What is TL?

Transforming leadership is said to occur when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.The six dimensions of transformational leadership are:

Inspirational motivation,
Appropriate role modeling,
Fostering the acceptance of group goals,
Individual consideration,
Contingent reward,
High performance expectations.

TL and Mountain Leadership

As a Mountain leader is is hopefully commonsense how we can look at these dimensions and see how we can develop our leadership style beyond that of the democrat and autocrat. How can we provide Inspirational Motivation and appropriate role modelling? Being enthusiastic for the mountains, climbing and the environment in which we work are just a few things that the NGB awards already encourage.

Fostering the Acceptance of group goals can be achieved through the selling strategy that I mentioned early, as a decision made by the group is more likely to be accepted by all, than a decision made for them.

As a mountain leader and climbing instructor I often have to make individual considerations, as I might have one diabetic in the group, or a disabled/less able person. As such I have to set different goals dependent on the individual.

Contingent reward, isn’t necessarily a form of bribery, through promises of chocolate, tea, coffee, ice cream or even beer. Instead simple praise when it is due is often enough. Interestingly this positive reinforcement of behaviour, has been shown to strengthen the behaviour you want to promote.

The final high performance expectations comes down to if you expect the worse you will often be able to find it in the group, however have high expectations and share those expectations with the group and often people will rise to the challenge.

TL and Performance

Transformational Leadership has been linked to higher performance, but often through two other mechanisms that group leadership can impact on. Whilst in our job the performance may not be measured through success or failure, victory or defeat; instead behaviour or learning are often less black and white.

The first mechanism that leadership has an effect on is what psychologist refer to as Collective Efficacy (CE) or the confidence of the group. It is defined as ‘A groups shared belief in its own collective ability to organise and execute courses of action required to produce given level of attainment.’

These psychologist have developed a set of building blocks that have a hierarchy of importance, when it comes to the impact on the CE, and research has shown higher CE is linked to higher performance. These building blocks in order of effect on CE are:
•    prior performance
•    vicarious experience
•    Group Size
•    Group cohesion
•    Group leadership
•    verbal persuasion

You can develop a groups confidence by helping to develop each of these building blocks, although the strongest is that of prior performance. So by ensuring that the group have a nice progressive approach to a task or day means that there prior performance is a positive one, rather than a negative one that will reduce confidence.

Of interest to the Outdoor Leader is Group Cohesion, or the force that binds a group together in order to achieve a set task or goal. There are two dimension to being cohesive one is a personal or emotional attraction to the group, the other is a attraction to task. These have been broken down into four categories of cohesion:

•    Individuals’ perception of the group social (‘group integration social’);
•    Individuals’ personal attraction to group social;
•    Individuals’ perception of group task (‘group integration task’);
•    Individuals’ personal attraction to group task.

At its most simple you can help group cohere by working on developing these four categories. At is most complex, it has been shown that different types of groups dependent on age, sex and task type have a different preferences for raising cohesion and improving performance. E.g For women only groups social interaction is more important than than task.

The last topic I want to address here is one that makes me chuckle everytime I read the research, that of Social Loafing. The looks at group size and an individuals ability to rely on others. The greater the group size the higher the trend to social loafing. This has an impact on appropriate group sizes for a given task, and more importantly for us as leader ways in which we can identify the social loafers and engage them in the activity.

If you would like to know more about this subject or would like a one day workshop at your centre or work place to look at modern leadership and reflective practice in more detail then please contact me here for details.

Leader Fall Training

I went to the wall with a friend yesterday who was nervous about falling off, so we did some fall training to help her get over the fear. We started with simply clipping the lower off and rather than waiting for the rope to go tight make it tight by instantly jumping off. This was fine when I was belaying her, but I did take quite a bit of air, as my friend had a fair bit of rope out when I jumped off and I might weigh a bit more than her!

We next moved onto lead falls, so found a nice overhanging route with big holds, and got her to climb up until she felt comfortable jumping off, Giving her the aim of getting the bolt level with her chest, as a start, and moving onto until she was above it.I also introduced her briefly to dynamic belaying.

The key to this training is a progressive approach, where you try and push yourself a little everytime. Some people will take an age to increase the distance they fall, some will be happy basically jumping from above the bolt after one or two goes. The trick is to allow the person falling to make there own decisions as how far they push it.

The second point is the most important one, which is safety. I know we all check each others harnesses and knots and belay plate before we lead a route. When you engage in this type of fall practice for both confidence in the system and safety I make sure I really overtly check and double check everything. Another important point is that the belayer knows what they are doing, as if they don’t there is the potential to drop someone quite badly, if necessary have them backed up.

A further issue is that having taken one or two falls onto one end of the rope it will have been stretched, and the knot will have tightened. It is important to let the rope relax, so it can stretch again. So get in the habit of switching the ends, and giving the rope time to relaxed after you have given it some extreme stretching.

There are other ways to get over your fear of falling, and which one to use would depend on the type of fear you have. If you’d like to have a days help with you fear, then Mark Reeves the author of the Climbing Coach, has study sport psychology to an MSc level, and can offer you a personalized program to over come your fears and improve your grade.

Long Term Athlete Development Workshops

I have managed to secure a place on the new BMC Learning to Train Workshop. Having been on the FUNdementals workshop, the first of a series of courses that looked at the various stages in Istvan Bayli’s proposed late specialization model for long term athlete development, I was interested in attending this learning to train workshop as it is the next stage in the model.

I am not sure if there are any places left, but if you teach young kids then I am sure that the course will roll out over the next year or so across the country. The course is on the 23rd Feb, and I am already looking forward to it. As it will look at areas that I covered in my MSc, and its always good to get other people interpretation of the same things.

Beside, Continuing Professional Development has become something of an addiction as i feel that if you want to improve at you job, in my case instructing/coaching climbing and mountaineering then this sort of course pays dividends.