This past weekend, 14 Full-Time and Evening MBA students from Goizueta Business School took part in the Ft. Benning Leadership Challenge. They traversed (imaginary) minefields, scaled a 60-foot tall rappelling tower, and learned about leadership from military leaders who had served on the frontline.
On Friday afternoon, the students were guided on a personal tour of the National Infantry Museum’s “Last 100 Yards” exhibit by museum director, Colonel (retired) Greg Camp. That evening, Colonel (retired) Ralph Puckett, a highly decorated leader from the Korean and Vietnam wars, shared his thoughts on leadership. A leader must “have a vision” and communicate that vision effectively to all levels, he shared. “Leaders do not lead by email,” he told the students. “Be there.” Lead by example and share the experience of those you lead, he added. “Never be satisfied.”
On Saturday, the students put their leadership skills to the test at Ft. Benning’s Leadership Reaction Course, a course meant to push participants to their physical and mental limits and reveal how they’d react under pressure, explained Lt. General (retired) Ken Keen, associate dean for Leadership Development at Goizueta.
Armed with a helmet, gloves and a few helpful items—rope, a pipe, a ladder—the students, in groups of two, made their way through the course’s stations which were populated with imaginary mine fields and electric fences. Their mission was not without the challenge of overcoming the ever-present danger of enemy attack and a 20-minute time constraint. After each station, the teams performed an “after action review” to assess their ability to work together to solve the problem in a short period of time.
“I was surprised by how challenging it was. We have advanced degrees and we couldn’t do it correctly,” said Joe Faxio 14EvMBA. “We’re learning that team dynamics are crucial and so is trust.”
It’s one thing, explained J.B. Kurish, director of Goizueta Advanced Leadership Academy (GALA) and associate professor in the practice of finance, to learn about leadership in a classroom, but it’s experiential leadership that drives those lessons home. To take students out of their day-to-day situations and give them leadership opportunities where ambiguity and change are the norm “jolts people to attention,” said Kurish. “In every day life we don’t slow down to think about how we could do things better.”
Brian Mitchell, associate dean of the Full-Time MBA Program, Harold Lewis, associate dean of the Evening MBA Program, and Harriet Ruskin, director of International and Joint Degree Programs, also attended the trip – a testament to the level of commitment Goizueta’s administrators have for supporting the leadership development of students.
Goizueta alumnus, Denny Watson 13MBA also traveled with the group to Fort Benning. As a student, Watson completed the multi-day Capstone Challenge, an experiential sailing challenge offered through GALA. “The value of both Capstone and Ft. Benning is that in a very practical way, you get to practice the leadership principles you’ve learned in the classroom,” Watson said. “But the takeaway from this experience is that you get to see the soldiers leading and understand how much more seriously they have to take it,” he said of the dozen or so military volunteers who facilitated the weekend’s activities. “It’s not about losing money, it’s about life and death.”
Grissel Ramirez 14EvMBA was hoping for an once-in-a-lifetime experience, and she wasn’t disappointed. Grateful for access to the military leaders and their feedback, she advocated that the Ft. Benning Leadership Challenge be added to the GALA curriculum. “The experience teaches skills that are transferable to the corporate world, she said. “That and, well, rappelling is just fun.”