Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Janet Ledesma

Second Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Third Advisor

David Boshart


Problem. Leaders today need a new set of knowledge and skills to be effective in collaborative environments. The focus of this study was to investigate how collaborative environments can contribute to leadership development. The purpose of this study was to describe how the collaborative environment of summer camp helped shape emerging adults as leaders. The summer camp setting is inherently collaborative and, therefore, can inform and develop leaders for future collaborative settings. The research question in focus for this study was, How do adults who served at a summer camp as emerging adults describe the experiences that helped shape them as leaders? The conceptual framework included Anabaptist theology, transformative learning theory, servant leadership, and collaboration.

Method. The primary research design was a qualitative design (Creswell). A case study method (Yin) was utilized in the Mennonite camp setting. The data in this setting were gathered through the participants’ stories of their experiences using narrative inquiry (Connelly & Clandinin). The criterion for this purposeful sampling directly reflected the purpose for this study and guided the identification of information-rich cases. The primary criteria were (a) the participants served at a Mennonite camp for at least two summers, (b) the participants served at a camp as an emerging adult, and (c) the participants were chosen with an effort to create a balance between gender and ethnicity.

Findings. This study revealed three main findings: (a) as collaborative environments Mennonite camps provide an important context for leadership development; (b) participants in this study were able to identify how their experience on the camp staff contributed to their leadership development in significant ways; and (c) participants could identify ways that their experience on the staff of a Mennonite camp continues to influence their practice of leadership in current collaborative environments. The research data in this study revealed that as collaborative environments Mennonite camps provide an important context for leadership development. The contribution to leadership development was evident in several ways. First, a proclivity toward servant leadership rises naturally out of the camp's embodiment of Christ-centered Anabaptist values. These values are well aligned with servant leadership theory because, for Anabaptists, the communal ethic is a defining characteristic as they strive to be servant leaders. Next, the camp environment is inherently a context for transformative learning because of the focus on developing nurturing relationships that allow for deep self-reflection that enables critical changes to occur as perspectives shift. Next, the data indicated that “relational wisdom” was developed as an important aspect of leadership in the collaborative setting of camp. Participants in this study were able to identify how their experience on the camp staff contributed to their leadership development in significant ways. First, the need to articulate beliefs at campfire, devotions, and Bible study challenged the participants to delve deeper into what they believe and then present it to the campers and staff. Second, the participants practiced leading during every hour of the day, which required them to introduce and facilitate the group interactions while being mentored by more experienced staff. Through repetition of practicing new skills, leadership skills grew and participants were led to reflect on their new understandings of leadership. Third, the structured team-building activities and unstructured group bonding time developed the skill of communication. Through active and quiet reflection, participants indicated that serving at camp had taught them to communicate on a deeper level. The research data in this study revealed that participants could identify ways that their experience on the staff of a Mennonite camp continues to influence their practice of leadership in current collaborative environments. The reflections in current roles as leaders helped participants discern and embrace their many talents and gifts that had been encouraged at camp. The most significant ways their early experiences contribute to their development as leaders in collaborative environment included: perspective transformation, identity development, and responsibility growth. Perspective transformation was derived from acknowledging assumptions about self and other staff and then challenging those assumptions to develop a new perspective. Serving at summer camp became an opportunity for the participants to mature through exercising independence from prior relationships while taking on new responsibilities. Identity development was evident through the positive relationships cultivated among camp staff, which allowed the participants to develop their identity by learning about themselves while furthering their faith journey. Responsibility growth was revealed as an integral part of leadership development. Responsibility growth occurred through learning from trial and error of being the primary care-giver for a group of children. Developing good judgment in order to respond to critical situations helped the participants grow in their integrity. The experience also led to a better understanding of the responsibilities associated with certain career paths such as being a teacher, pastor, or not-for-profit administrator.

Discussion. The experiences needed to contribute to leadership development in a collaborative environment are transformative when situated within Anabaptist theology. The Mennonite camp setting allows for a unique intersection of leadership practice, mentoring, and spiritual growth. The supportive relationships espoused the Anabaptist values of reconciliation, service to others, and group discernment. The way that the summer staff developed their understanding of leadership can be understood within Mezirow’s transformative learning theory. Although they had varying degrees of insight into how their experience affected them, all of the participants indicated that their experience had a positive impact on their leadership growth. Some articulated that their experience at camp involved learning on a deeper level. In categorizing these levels within transformative learning, Habermas identified instrumental learning and communicative learning. Learning on the instrumental level was a way to improve task-oriented problem solving or to improve performance. The communicative level was a process of reflecting with a group of people to gain a deeper understanding of perspectives. Examples of instrumental learning included learning to create lesson plans, teach activities, and speak before a group. These examples were highlighted by the participants as being crucial to developing skills for their future careers such as going into ministry, serving as a missionary, becoming a teacher, or working in not-for-profit administration. Communicative learning occurred as the staff critically reflected on their personal and spiritual growth. Through these intentional times of reflecting, they were able to more accurately identify patterns and begin to construct new meaning of leadership through consensual validation. Furthermore, the increased level of self-awareness and depth of group reflection led to examining presuppositions about their role as leaders. The summer staff helped each other to explore alternative perspectives as they practiced leading in new ways. The leadership development that took place in the context of this study was a result of a servant leadership style that fostered critical group reflection and led to new leadership practices.

Subject Area

Leadership, Servant leadership, Transformative learning, Church camps--Mennonites.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.