‘Leadership and spirituality…minus the loaves and fishes’

When you hear the word ‘leadership’ you may find yourself bombarded with images of the likes of Shackleton or Hunt battling against the odds, men of great achievements and, undoubtedly, great examples of good leadership. However, is this what we mean by leadership in today’s society? Is leadership meant only for those on adventurous endeavours? Mick Wood suggests otherwise.

contents: introduction · exploring spirituality · the outdoors as a catalyst for spiritual awareness · the program · references · respond

CamasLeadership is not constrained to men nor expeditions of great adventures but is a valuable tool for all in everyday social interaction. It was this belief that inspired Dick Allcock (Founder of Endeavour Training), along with Roger Orgill (Chairman of the Foundation for Outdoor Adventure), to instigate an innovative new leadership program towards the end of 2000. As a result, Endeavour Training co-ordinated a group of 18 people (young people & youth workers) from Endeavour, The Princes Trust, Mobex NE, The Arthur Rank Training Centre and Brahma Kumaris. This group was then transported from their various backgrounds to the remote island of Mull, and then to the even more remote Camas Centre.

The Camas Centre is situated on the North West coastline of the island enjoying unforgettable views of Staffa from it’s own secluded bay. It is a row of remote ex-fishing cottages with no electricity, central heating or running hot water in fact… if I were to say an open fire and a cold tap you’d have a better understanding of Camas, oh yeah…almost forgot no flushing toilets! (I think you get the picture.

Exploring spirituality

For those of us not familiar with the process of exploring our own spirituality (Well that’s only for hippies and religious nuts ain’t it?) the noise of 20th century living can sometimes stop us from seeing our own true selves. Coming to Camas removed much of this noise and gave people the space and time to discover their own thoughts, ideas and emotions. The week-long program had no formal structure but the nature of Camas meant that certain tasks needed to be done, i.e. food gathering in the garden, the cutting and storing of peat for next years fires, meals cooked, fires built and loos emptied into the recycling system etc.

As well as these essential activities there were several activities on offer which the group decided to include on the program on a ‘drop in basis’, giving individuals the freedom to engage in the group or not. The choice not to engage was not seen as a negative action but rather as a specific need of an individual to ‘get their heads together’. The activities were aimed primarily to focus the groups thoughts on their own spirituality and included the use of music, discussion, art/sculpture, poetry and adventurous activities, many of which were unfamiliar activities to the group. Regular features of the time at Camas were the twice-daily reflections. These were periods during which people provided an opportunity to focus their thoughts on the day and what spirituality meant for them. During reflections one member of the group would lead the 5-10 minute session with a poem or activity to stimulate the individuals thinking. Interestingly enough, a clear distinction became apparent between spirituality and religion (this was evident after the group objected to the first ever reflection, which included a Christian prayer).

The outdoors as a catalyst for spiritual awareness

So why would anyone bring 18 people from the relative luxury of 20th century living back through time to a place where hard work is needed just to get through the day? Cast your mind back to those first images of Shackleton and Hunt – leadership emerges through their knowledge of who they are and what they want, their understanding of self or to use another, and somewhat stigmatized, term ‘spiritual’ awareness.

This project aimed to use the outdoors as a catalyst on the journey to spiritual awareness and place it in the context of everyday life and leadership. An important point to remember about spirituality is that it is not synonymous with religious experience (McDonald & Schreyer, cited by R. Fox in Miles & Priest). This was to be a belief echoed throughout and was to prove an important aspect of the whole project.

It became apparent throughout the project that in order to be an effective leader you need to develop, amongst other things, an understanding of who you are, and an awareness of your own spirituality. The three aspects of an effective leader, I suggest , are:

Experience. Without entering into the intellectual arguments of experience and knowledge, whether metaphysical or epistemological (as talked about by the likes of Dewey, cited by Warren, Sakofs & Hunt), for the purpose of this article I simply define experience as the sum of the engagement an individual has with the outside world, in all it’s forms.

Hard Skills, these are the technical knowledge and competencies needed to perform specific tasks. An example of this can be taken from John Adair and his model of action centred leadership (which uses the same graphical representation as the model being described) through to the ability to tie knots, facilitate a group etc.

Spiritual Awareness. This is an intangible aspect and as such is difficult to define, although many writers have tried. The following attempt by Rebecca Fox (in Miles and Priest 1999) comes some way to getting close,

Spirituality is defined as an altered state of consciousness where an individual may experience a higher sense of self, inner feelings, inner knowledge, awareness and attainment to the world and one’s place in it, knowledge of personal relationships and the relationship to the environment, or a belief in a power greater than imaginable.

These three main aspects form the leadership triad and are to be developed equally in order to increase the central area, the area of ‘effective leadership’ (See Figure 1). Each ‘sphere’ of the triad can be developed independently, and almost infinitely, but it is the development of all sphere that will increase the effective leadership skills of an individual.

In Figure 2 we can see what happens to the area of effective leadership when one of the spheres of the triad is developed independently of the others. Whilst that specific aspect is developed the effective leadership ability of the individual is not significantly increased, it is only when all arms of the triad are developed that this will happen. This does not have to happen all at the same time but equal consideration must be given to all aspects in order to develop an individual’s leadership ability. This model of leadership firmly stands in the ‘leaders are made and not born’ camp although it does recognize that certain individuals may be born with a natural aptitude for one or more of these leadership aspects and could then be perceived as a ‘natural’ leader, i.e. ‘born not made’.

The program

The group firmly encompassed the idea of spirituality and at the end of the program understood the importance of spiritual awareness in relation to their everyday lives. The ethos and feeling behind this program can be summed up with the following quote:

Few of us know how to gently approach the mysteries and wonder of nature, to find real simplicity in the wilds, to set the stage for an experience of the eternal, the infinite, the ineffable. With few exceptions, organizations that lead people into wild country simply hope that such experiences will occur, for these are the moments we remember and cherish the most. We know we are moved by our experiences in nature, but few of us can really articulate how or why. (Brown, 1988 cited by Fox in Miles and Priest 1999)

I would like to think that this program has taken Endeavour and the participating organizations into the realm of being one of the few exceptions that doesn’t merely hope for these experiences but helps to facilitate them in order to develop those young leaders we value so much.

Comments/Feedback would be very much welcomed.

Mick Wood
Endeavour Training
Regional Project Manager
North Derbyshire & South Yorkshire



Adair, J (1983) Effective Leadership, London: Pan Books

Miles, J. C. and Priest, S. (2000) Adventure Programming, Venture Publishing

Warren, K., Sakofs, M., Hunt, J. S. Jr (eds.) (1995) The Theory of Experiential Education, Endall/Hunt Publishing Company.

© Mick Woods 2001. Last update: July 08, 2014

Last Updated on July 10, 2019 by infed.org