Paddlesport Leader Award

Leadership in the challenging world of paddlesport- A model to help us. This learning guide will take you through some of the key principles behind the British Canoeing Leadership Model and ensure you have a basic knowledge of those principles, before undertaking the Paddlesport Leader Award. The results here aren't recorded and questions are for your own reference, to measure your understanding of the content.

1. A Model to Help Us

Introduction to our Model

To lead in our ever changing water based environment poses a lot of questions for the leader. From each of these questions follows a decision to be made, each one of the decisions leading to a successful day out or a day that could have perhaps been better. We know good leadership is all about keeping people safe, yet it is far more than that. We want to influence and motivate our group towards communal or individual goals, we want to inspire and of course we want them to develop that passion for paddlesport. To do this we must have good interpersonal skills, be able to communicate, show empathy and understand all those around us. Leadership is essentially all about our behaviours; our actions are always going to be remembered more than our status or name. The following sections explore our actions and behaviour as a Leader and questions their influence on the group or individual.

1. Questions for Leaders

So how do we do it, or more importantly, how could we do it better? What influences our behaviours and critically, how should I behave? How can I have all the answers and know what style I should adopt when I’m leading? Well, British Canoeing have been playing with a model to help answer just those questions and it may not just make us safe leaders but perhaps make us inspirational leaders. Lets have a look at some of those questions we need to think about as Leaders.

2. Influences on Leader Behaviour

Influences on Leadership Behaviour Introduction

For us to know how best to behave and then decide how best to therefore lead, we must first understand what influences our leadership behaviours. These influences are critical as it is these that dictate our behaviour, ignore them and poor leadership will follow, respond and adapt to them and inspirational you may be! Three key influences have been identified, the Situation and Environment, You (the Leader) and the Group Members, match them on the next page!

Q1. Influences on Leadership Behaviour

Match the the 3 key influences with the specific examples of each.
  • The Situation and Environment
    For Example: the weather, water conditions/seriousness, the goals of the group, the type of task.
  • The Group Members
    For Example: individuals’ different characteristics, personality, ability and arousal levels relative to the task in hand, preference for specific leadership behaviours
  • You (The Leader):
    For Example: your personality, expertise, experience, philosophy, personal values and beliefs.

Q2. Influences on Leadership Behaviour

Match the specific influences with the right considerations you should take when thinking about those influences on the left.
  • The weather, water conditions/seriousness, the goals of the group, the type of task.
    These will often dictate the leader to a specific type of required behaviour to manage the situation, more often than not, linked to safety but can be linked to ensuring something is achieved
  • Individuals’ different characteristics, personality, ability and arousal levels relative to the task in hand, preference for specific leadership behaviours
    These guide the leader to the groups/individuals preferred behaviour for them to get the most out of the situation. These may well change as the situation and environment does
  • Your personality, expertise, experience, philosophy, personal values and beliefs.
    This will be the starting point to how you want to lead. However, it is critical this is adapted based on the other two influences to ensure your actual behaviour delivered to the group has considered the situation and environment.

3. Leader Behaviour

Leader Behaviour Introduction

Your actual behaviour is what the group sees and experiences. It is in essence what you are as a leader and from this, how successful you will be. Your behaviour must be adaptable, reactive and in a constant state of being self-monitored. This process is fed by bearing in mind the influences outlined. What underpins all of this ‘adaptive’ behaviour is important, this is the ‘magic stardust’ that supports you being inspirational. 

Underpinning Leadership behaviours that promote Vision, Challenge and Support are crucial.

Three simple things need to be part of your leadership everywhere you go and with everyone you lead.


Leaders should create an inspirational picture as a goal for the future, for the group and/or for each individual within the group. Leaders should be a positive role model, engendering the trust and respect of others and acting on the Leaders personally held value system. 

Select the behaviours that promote a strong vision.

  • Lead by example
  • Show passion and enthusiasm for paddlesport, for the activity and what others can/have acheived
  • Discourage a strong team attitude
  • Bring out the worst in people
  • Get the group to work together towards shared goals

Three simple things need to be part of your leadership everywhere you go and with everyone you lead.


Support is an important leadership behaviour in order for you to be effective and inspirational. Leaders should recognise individual differences and demonstrate concern for the development of the group members, providing empathetic soical support in a positive atmosphere. 

Select the supportive behaviours below.

  • Treat everyone the same
  • Create an atmosphere where mistakes are seen as learning opportunites
  • Care about the group members personal welfare / well-being
  • Never praise improvements in performance
  • Recognise achievements, visibly celebrate success

Three simple things need to be part of your leadership everywhere you go and with everyone you lead.


Leaders should appropriately support challenging experiences for their paddlers, encouraging them to solve their own problems and actively involving paddlers in the decision making process. 

Select the behaviours that ensure you display challenging behaviours. 

  • Make all the decisions yourself
  • Help individuals set appropriate levels of challenge
  • Support appropriately challenging experiences
  • Encourage paddlers to solve their own problems

4. Leadership Style

Leadership Style Introduction

The behaviour you choose as a leader will shape your leadership style. The amount of control that you choose to maintain/hand-over within your leadership style is a critical element for you to consider. Different leadership styles give the leader/participants varying levels of control within the decision making process. This will change and the choice should be made, based on the influences, (i.e. the Situation and Environment, the Group Members, and You the Leader) and by paying attention to the Effects (i.e. the Group’s Enjoyment, Safety and Performance).  

A balance needs to be found. Simply put there are two ends of the spectrum, one being a controlling leadership style and one being a non-controlling leadership style; we need to be monitoring where we are on the spectrum and whether it is where we want to be. 



Q1. Leadership Style - Controlling

Controlling leaders make all decisions with little input from the group and typically display the following behaviours:

  • Prescriptive
  • Indifferent to people's feeling or level of enjoyment
  • Doesn't explain actions

Which of these pictures best describe controlling behaviour?

Q2. Leadership Style - Non-controlling

Research suggests that non-controlling leadership behaviours result in improved performance and psychological well-being. This empowering and supportive style ensures that the group members are central to and actively involved in the process. If controlling behaviours are felt necessary for safety reasons, check to ensure you haven’t set the challenge too high. Can you manipulate the level of challenge so you can hand over more control to the group members?

Non-controlling Leaders allow members to participate in the decision making process and typically display the following behaviours:

  • Get the groups approval on important matters and encourages the group to make suggestions
  • Let's the group set their own goals and work at their own pace
  • Encourages people to find their own solutions and learn from their mistakes

Which of these pictures best describe non-controlling behaviour?

5. Leader Decision Making

Leader Decision Making Introduction

Our decisions are crucial and are happening all the time while we are leading. When planning, doing and reflecting, these decisions should be informed by the influences, the behaviour and the effect. Leaders should constantly observe and monitor their decisions and always be prepared to react and then adapt when out leading. This will require some well thought through decisions and some quick decisions in time pressured situations.

Planning and Preparation

Within the planning of a trip, Leaders should aim to match the situation and the environment to the group's aims, aspirations, enjoyment and safety. Accurate interpretation of the information gathered is required to plan where to go and what to take and will also provide foresight into what should be expected.

Click the information tabs below to find out the key factors to gather information on ahead of the trip.

Observation and Monitoring

Once on the water, the situation and environment and the group members need to be constantly observed and monitored and you may need to plan alternatives to deal with predictable/changeable factors that may compromise participants’ safety, enjoyment or learning. This includes alternative venue(s), activities or leadership styles.

  • Pay attention to the members response to the activity; the social environment, the physical environment and your leadership style
  • Ensure you stick to the original plan without taking into consideration unforeseen events
  • Adapt your level of control to suit the situation
  • Match the level of challenge to the level of group members

Select the following statements which will ensure you are constantly observing and monitoring the situation, adapting your decisions. 

6. The Effect

Q1. The Effect

  • Are the group enjoying the experience?
  • Is their performance meeting the demands required of it?
  • Are the group getting to use all of the equipment provided, while completing a full journey?
  • Is safety being managed appropriately?

To know if our behaviour is inspirational, that our style is appropriate and that the group are getting what they want, we have to monitor the effect we are having. What questions should we constantly ask ourselves?

7. Summary

Remember, it's all about the decisions we make as Leaders

Our decisions are crucial and they should be happening all the time. So when planning, doing and reflecting, consider the influences, the behaviour and the effect. Constantly observe and monitor to feed these decisions and always be prepared to react and then adapt when out leading, based on these decisions.

Dr Calum Arthur, a speaker at one of the Level 4 Performance Paddlesport Coaching residentials, talks here about the importance of Transformational Leadership. This is another look at the role the Leader plays in transforming the behaviour of the group or individual.