For this study I will use the construct of Authentic Leadership.

In the realm of positive psychology theories, research on the Full Range of Leadership Model (Bass, 1985) and studies on, almost overlapping, constructs like transformational leadership (Burns, 1978), ethical leadership (Brown, Trevino, 2006) and authentic leadership (Avolio, 2003) have given support to the notion that indeed leadership can be learned and that all constructs share the common perspective of greater commitment, organizational citizen behavior and job satisfaction of followers, leading to sustainable and veritable contributions to organizational performance. In these studies, self-awareness and self-regulation are mentioned as ‘root’ attributes to leadership development.

The problem that my research wants to address is that leadership models based on only transactional, directive and autocratic principles seem to have lost their effectiveness. The growing societal consciousness of the importance of multi-stakeholder value creation, optimizing human capital and nature conservation, generate a call for effective, genuine, values–based leadership. Overlapping constructs like transformational, ethical and authentic leadership have emerged in the last decennia as a response to this call, whereby authentic leadership distinguishes itself being a ‘root’ construct, and it will be argued that therefor it is preferred for my research. Athentic leadership overlaps transformational and ethical leadership and has two 'root' dimensions: self-awareness and self-regulation. There is also scholarly support that these constructs show indeed positive relationships with greater commitment, organizational citizen behavior and job satisfaction of followers, leading to sustainable and veritable organizational performance.

So, building on the notion that leaders can be developed, these important societal challenges indicate the urge to develop leaders towards more authentic leadership attitude and behavior. For, authentic leaders are leaders who: (a) know who they are and what they believe in; (b) display transparency and consistency between their values, ethical reasoning and actions; (c) focus on developing positive psychological states such as confidence, optimism, hope, and resilience within themselves and their associates; (d) are widely known and respected for their integrity.

There are many leadership development programs - it is a multi-billion industry -, that claim to develop leaders into more effective leaders. But, it is the process of authentic leadership development, being a values centered ‘root’-construct, that starts with fostering greater self-awareness and self-regulated positive behaviors. At the same time it is important to notice that these two explicit dimensions of authentic leadership are found back in the literature on wilderness experience. Findings show that participation of leaders in wilderness programs, as part of their leadership development, specifically results in these positive ‘root’ benefits, such as enhanced self-awareness and sense of personal control.

Although there are ample anecdotal stories about those outcomes, there is a wide gap in the field of empirical research on what is happening with leaders participating a wilderness program. They talk about it with great passion, but it has never been systematically measured. Therefor, my study is focused on the impact of wilderness experiences, especially the growth of self-awareness and self-regulation, and the relationship with authentic leadership development. My research will contribute to these debates by providing empirical plausibility underpinning the suggested positive relationship between profound wilderness experiences and the development of authentic leadership attitude and behavior. In short, restoring connection with nature makes greater leaders, and thereby greater followers and organizations.

Boy van Droffelaar 2012