The Leadership Project: Self Awareness


Jul 13, 2020

NOLS Instructor Andy Notopoulos talks about the leadership skill self awareness. Subscribe to the NOLSie News to follow along our series exploring the 7 NOLS leadership skills.

What does it look like to use self awareness?

For me, coming from this lens of self-awareness as your leadership style, I often use the self-awareness quad, which is this four-part way of looking at our being. I’ll check in with questions like these:

1. How is my body doing? What am I noticing in my body?

2. How am I feeling? How good are my emotions doing? Am I mad, sad, glad, afraid?

3. What stories is my mind telling me about what's happening?

4. And then what does my heart want? Like, what are my deeper wants and needs right now?

By breaking it down in that way, I think that I started to both be able to notice in myself what was actually happening, and then tell a better story about how I am doing, both for myself and for the folks with me on a course.

What makes the outdoors a good setting to learn this leadership skill?

Person looking into winding redrock canyon landscape
Photo by Sanjana Govind.

I think in the outdoor classroom, everything is more simple in some ways. My ability to correlate or to make sense of what's happening internally can be simplified.

For example, at the end of a hiking day, I might think to myself: “Okay: I feel so grumpy, and I feel in my body just so tense and snappy. And my brain is telling me that everyone on the group is out to get me, and I'm just about to explode.”

And then if I can sit back for a second and think, “Wait a second, what do I really feel in my body? I feel hungry—and cold. And what do I really want? I just want to be warm and comfortable and taken care of and loved.”

Then, I can sit back and think, "Hold on, I can take care of myself here, I can get warm and eat some food, and then I can show up as a better member of my group.”

That's a really easy and straightforward trajectory to gaining some self awareness and practicing that skill. And I think that we can do that on an expedition by supporting each other and critically looking at ourselves.

What does self awareness look like on a day-to-day level?

I think it gets a lot more complicated when we go back to the front country. There are so many factors inundating us all the time, whether it's news or social media, or the complexities of relationships that we navigate all the time when we are around more people.

And then there's jobs, and there's school, and there are just so many things that are influencing us that I think it’s harder to parse out, "Okay, I feel angry and I don't know why," because there are so many things that could be happening.

So, I think that what we learn on a NOLS course is just a starting point for work that we will continue throughout our lives.

But I think that it is a beautiful place to start, and a forgiving place to start, because I think we are so intentional about forming community on expeditions that we can have that forgiveness and create that space for each other to learn.

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NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.

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