The role of wilderness experiences in leaders’ development toward authentic leadership

Boy van Droffelaar*, M.H. Jacobs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the impact of leaders’ wilderness experiences on intentions to transform leadership behaviors toward authentic leadership. Design/methodology/approach – Content analysis was used on trail reports made by participants of a wilderness-based leadership program. Participants (n¼97) were leaders working in business and institutional settings, both males and females. Participants were asked to write personal reports within two weeks after the training program about their wilderness experiences, and related behavioral intentions. Findings – The analyses revealed four categories of leaders’ peak experiences: heightened sense of self, awareness of one’s core values, deep connected attention, and being in full presence. These peak experiences triggered intentions to change future leadership behaviors: to be more aware of self, to live by the inner compass, to improve careful listening, and to become more transparent. These intentions closely resonate with the core components of authentic leadership.
Research limitations/implications – The authors’ sample is characterized by developmental readiness: people who are already willing to change. However, developmental ready leaders are the subset of leaders that is particularly relevant studying change toward authentic leadership. Another limitation is intentions are assessed, and hence knowledge about actual changes in leadership style requires additional research.
Practical implications – The attributes of the transformation program that foster change as revealed here – being in another world, facing unfamiliar challenges, peer-to-peer learning – can be flexibly adopted and implemented in a wide range of leadership transformation programs.
Originality/value – By demonstrating that being immersed in nature can act as a significant life event that has the potential to foster authentic leadership, this study provides an original contribution to the literature on strategies for intra-personal leadership development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1144-1156
JournalLeadership & Organization Development Journal
Issue number8
Early online date15 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Authentic leadership
  • Leadership development
  • Peak experiences
  • Self-awareness
  • Transformation
  • Wilderness


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