Cornell Cultivates Leadership, Elementally
As both a NOLS instructor and an MBA student at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Jamie Hunt acts as a one-of-a-kind bridge between individuals typically sporting an array of Patagonia apparel and those who don blazers and button-ups on a more regular basis. Hunt’s distinctive perspective helped forge the pathway for the first Johnson Leadership Expedition, a 10-day hiking course in Patagonia for academic credit that took place in January.
Hunt pointed out that, “leadership is the new business school ‘buzz word.’ Yet, few business schools provide MBAs with the opportunity to lead in situations with real consequences.”
From his own experience, Hunt knows “A NOLS expedition provides a unique opportunity to fail, to give and receive face-to-face feedback, and to reflect.” He went on to explain, “In the mountains, there are few distractions—no partner to call, no iPhone to pull out, no game to watch—one learns to accept reality as it is, instead of how he or she would like it to be.”
During the first three days of the course, students faced unexpected challenges presented by suboptimal weather conditions: 30-45 degrees with steady precipitation culminating in the traverse of a snowy pass in similar circumstances. Fierce wind repeatedly knocked participants to the ground. Though trying and unpleasant, Hunt acknowledged that the bad weather brought the team together and helped them recognize that they had a greater tolerance for adversity than expected.
In addition to time spent in the field, participants also partook in pre- and post-expedition sessions designed to support the experiential learning process and enhance the analytical rigor of the leadership material. The classes were designed and led by Johnson Associate Professor of Management and Organizations James Detert. Pre-expedition sessions centered around active followership, peer leadership, decision-making styles, and how to effectively cope with stress in leadership situations. After the expedition, a collective debrief was followed by individualized coaching. Students gave and received honest feedback about observed leadership and followership capabilities while the coaching focused on developing plans for transferring learning from the trek to their everyday lives and professional careers.
The Johnson School's Director of Leadership Programs, Jerry Rizzo, who was also a member of the expedition, highlighted one of the business school’s main objectives: “to teach an ongoing cycle of instruction, experience, and review.”
He explained, “It is hard to find ways to provide meaningful experiences that reinforce classroom learning.” However, he observed “NOLS takes students to an environment away from day-to-day interruptions and allows them to fully focus on their personal leadership style as well as areas of strength and areas for improvement.”
Student Alex Chang reiterated Rizzo’s assertion: “The backcountry life removed all the front-country distractions, and my leadership style and personality came through to me a lot more clearly than if I was in a leadership training retreat in the front-country."