Nature-based Coaching nurtures Authentic Leadership 

The power of nature can assist coaches in achieving optimal results, all just from being in the presence of nature itself. It can lead to establishing a connection in recognizing our place within the world and our inner selves (Carter, 2016:15). The incorporation of nature into coaching strategies can be a powerful mechanism to encourage one’s self-discovery and to fully take in all feelings, thoughts, sounds and smells around you in that particular moment.  


The current global environment, during the COVID pandemic, is fuelled by high levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout, making it much more difficult to remove the barriers between work and home environments (Gumede, 2020). More leaders are choosing to follow their own egotistical goals instead of making decisions that will benefit the company as a whole, thus there is a huge calling for leaders to change their behaviour to be more authentic and soul centred. This article will provide information on how nature-based coaching has become a necessity in the self-transcendence journey, reflecting the adaption of the authentic leadership style.  


Authentic Leadership – why is it so special?  

Avolio et al (2004) defines authentic leaders as those who are deeply aware of their own thoughts and feelings in terms of their moral perspective and character. These leaders gain their credibility through acknowledgement of what is morally the best decision for the company and the employees at large, which in turn is elevated through time immersed in nature as a result of heightened awareness and self-awareness 


Nature-Based Coaching: What is it?  

According to Naor and Mayseless (2020:1,2), nature is a very important ingredient of our psychological existence with physical, psychological and spiritual beneficial effect on human development which is predominantly found in existing research.

The door to the hills
Photo by Samuel Girven on Unsplash

However, there is little research to study how nature contributes to behavioural changes through structured nature-based experiences {Shanahan et al., 2019:2}. 


Nature-based initiatives (NBIs) are found in a number of different fields from coaching to health interventions. According to Shanahan et al. (2019:2), these initiatives consist of programmes, activities or strategies aimed at encouraging engagement with health and wellbeing goals through nature. Gritzka et al (2020:2) identifies these interventions as methodologies that trigger mental dissociation from stressful areas in our lives to pay attention toward natural stimuli as a form of stress reduction (Sahlim et al, 2015:1930). This process allows the renewal and refocus of attention capacity to the different components in our day to day lives.  


The Importance of Nature  

Nature is one of the only places through the connection with the animal and plant kingdoms to maintain a relationship with our Divine source or Higher Power. People are too quick to disbelieve in how a simple walk in nature can instantly change one’s moodThis type of approach permits the development of our emotional, social and spiritual intelligence that mirrors an improvement in cognitive learning. This is why nature has such a strong and dynamic effect on all of us, as stated by Carter (2020:21).  


The overall incorporation of nature into one’s schedule or allocated timcan promote optimal health and wellbeing, especially in leadership development as it requires an authentic connection to one’s inner Self, others and the environment around them (Gritzka et al., 2020:2). Authentic leadership is the most suitable ideology to incorporate nature into its activities as a result of increased awareness and self-awareness, brought about by NBIs.   


Studies have looked at different types of areas to identify the possible effects of nature on human development, such as the wetlands in the UK (Maud et al, 2019) to a wilderness trail in Pretoria (Van Droffelaar and Jacobs, 2018). These research studies are predominantly related to the therapeutic effects in addressing mental illnesses, especially those that are stress related. 

man under stars
Photo by Mindaugas Vitkus on Unsplash

There is one notable study that made use of NBIs to enhance authentic leadership characteristics within the sample group.  


Van Droffelaar and Jacobs (2018) modelled their study based on the Wilderness Leadership Transformation Program of the Foundation for Natural Leadership (FNL) from the Netherlands which lasted for a total of 4-6 days with a small sample of participants. The activities included hiking in remote places without human-made facilities and camping with periods of solitude as well as periods of self-reflection (Van Droffelaar and Jacobs, 2018:11). This study measured the four dimensions of authentic leadership, namely self-awareness, balanced processing, internalised moral perspective and relational transparency (Slabbert, 2018:1), both pre- and post-nature intervention, and again exactly one year later (Van Droffelaar and Jacobs, 2018:13). Although the participants were aware of authentic leadership characteristics prior to the study, the sample group’s leadership characteristics developed from a factor of 0.61 to 0.75. It is important to note that the study did not focus on behavioural changes, but instead on how each of the four dimensions of authentic leadership improved over the period of the study.  


The future 

There is current academic canon studying NBIs, as identified by Van Droffelaar and Jacobs (2018). However, there are no existing studies determining the actual effects of nature-based coaching on the development of authentic leadership characteristics. The current leadership crisis desperately needs more leadership to get in touch with their authentic Self, their soul-centred Self and not their Ego-self. This will then reflect how they will make their own decisions to benefit everyone as a whole instead of personal gain.  


The opportunity to spend time in nature can aid in the development of authentic leaders and use it as a platform for inner spiritual growth.    

Contact us to find out more



Avolio, Bruce; Gardner, William L.; Walumbwa, Fred; Luthans, Fred and May, Douglas R. (2004). “Unlocking the mask: A look at the process by which authentic leadership impact follower attitudes and behaviors”, Management Department Faculty Publications. 156.   


Carter, Deborah. (2016). ‘A Nature-Based Social-Emotional Approach to Supporting Young Children’s Holistic Development in Classrooms With and Without Walls: The Social-Emotional and Environmental Education Development [SEED] Framework’, International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 4(1):9-24 


Gritzka et al. (2020). ‘The Effects of Workplace Nature-Based Interventions on the Mental Health and Well-Being of Employees: A Systematic Review’ 


Gumede, William. 2020. ‘SA faces devasting social multiple social impact’. [Online]. Available from: (Accessed 19 September 2020)  


Maund, Phoebe R., Irvine, Katherine N., Reeves, Jonathan, Strong, Emily, Cromie, Ruth, Dallimer, Martin, Davies, Zoe G. (2019). ‘Wetlands for Wellbeing: Piloting a Nature-Based Health Intervention for the Management of Anxiety and Depression’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16:1-17 


Naor, Lia., MayselessOfra. (2020). ‘The Art of Working with Nature in Nature-Based Therapies’, Journal of Experimental Education, 00(0):1-19 


Sahlim et al. (2015). ‘Using Nature-Based Rehabilitation to Restart a Stalled Process of Rehabilitation in Individuals with Stress-Related Mental Illness’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12:928-1951 


Shanahan et al. (2019). ‘Nature-Based Interventions for Improving Health and Wellbeing: The Purpose, the People and the Outcomes’, Sports 7(141):1-20 


Slabbert, J. (2018). ‘Authentic and Spiritual Leadership’.  


Van Droffelaar, B., Jacobs, Maarten. (2018). ‘Nature-Based Training Program Fosters Authentic Leadership’, Journal of Leadership Studies, 12(5):7-18