Adventures in Outdoor Leadership at NOLS
Now that I have had a bit of breathing room between finals and starting my internship at Acumen, I finally can share some insights on Yale’s inaugural trip to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) as part of Yale’s Leadership Development Program (LDP). This past May, I had the opportunity to join eight other amazing first-year classmates and friends on a 10-day backpacking leadership course in Utah (Cedar Mesa Trail), which was a phenomenal experience. The trip was organized by Sarah Biggerstaff, Leadership Coach and Lecturer in the Practice of Leadership at Yale SOM LDP, and represents a shift in the leadership development program that focuses on a customized, holistic leadership experience – definitely beyond the classroom!
Backpacking + Leadership?
So what do backpacking and leadership actually have to do with one another? It doesn’t seem like the most intuitive of combinations, but it definitely works. Guards down, experiencing wilderness together, completely focused on the goal of finding camp and water helps make for a pretty “raw” experience where by necessity everyone’s personalities, strengths, and weaknesses are revealed. For our NOLS course, we were split into three leadership teams of three and each leadership team led two days of the hike, making decisions about the day’s agenda and hike, while also orienteering and finding camp/water. Each day focused on a different NOLS leadership concept including: competency, communication, self-awareness, vision/action, tolerance for adversity/uncertainty, judgment/decision making, and expedition behavior, as well as a focus on four types of leadership roles—designated leadership, active followership, peer leadership, and self-leadership.
My goals for the trip were more experimental by nature. I wanted to understand and observe how to inspire people, especially peers. This for me is an important leadership insight for the future as I think about a career in the social sector and understanding how to mobilize a community and catalyze change. Through my past career, I had the opportunity to lead and manage others, but never really explored how to inspire others to take ownership and really inspire others to action beyond a complex project plan. The NOLS trip really represented a unique opportunity to “test” some of my own theories of how to motivate others first-hand with real time feedback from my peers! Selfishly, NOLS also was a great opportunity for me to reconnect with nature and really spend some needed time reflecting on the past year, as well as my future before going straight into my summer internship in New York. The experience was also a great way to engage with my classmates and friends at a much deeper level! While I’m purposely leaving a lot of the details vague to not give away the key lessons of the trip (especially related to dealing with uncertainty), I can honestly say that the experience was incredibly rewarding. And to carry on the foodie undercurrent theme of my past blog posts, I can also say that we did eat well – homemade garlic mashed potato/ sausage bacon pizza, coconut curry, and cinnamon buns to name a few delectable treats! Here are some pictures of the amazing beauty that words could not fully capture.