MBAs use sailing to learn about working in high-performance teams

MBAs are notorious Type-A personalities — independent, goal-oriented, driven to succeed and best the competition. It’s a recipe for success, but it also presents a conundrum: How do you leverage these strengths in a business environment that increasingly prizes collaboration?

Goizueta’s Advanced Leadership Academy offers a novel way to help MBA students think through the challenge: Sailing.

The leadership academy begins in January each year with a series of biweekly seminars, guest speakers and individual coaching sessions focused on understanding one’s self in the role of a leader. It culminates in the capstone sailing challenge in the British Virgin Islands.

Make no mistake, this was no day at the beach. Sailing is a demanding sport, especially for many first-time sailors.

The class is divided into teams, and each person rotates through key roles on the boat: captain, helmsman, cook, engineer and navigator. Over the course of the voyage, they learn how each role plays into the larger team and how they must work together to achieve success.

The value of team communication was a key takeaway for many students.

“You can learn the technical things,” said Orlin Atanassov, who was assigned captain on the first day of this year’s trip. “The larger challenge is getting the team buy-in, communications and building team relationships.”

“The goal is to bring all these high-performing individuals together and build them into a high-performing team,” said J.B. Kurish, associate professor in the practice of finance.

Kurish leads the program, along with Ken Keen, the associate dean of Goizueta’s leader development program, and Harriet Ruskin, the business school’s director of international programs and joint degree student advising.

What Students are Saying About GALA

“I was captain on our first day at sea. I realized you have to maintain composure and communicate confidently to the outside world. Even though we’d spent the semester together, this was the first time we worked together like this, and it was in a challenging and stressful situation.” – Orlin Atanassov, MBA15


“I came from a military background and was a pilot, so the cook position was actually the most challenging. Your job is to focus on meeting everyone’s needs, on very simple things like making sure they have enough water. Sometimes it was frustrating, but I learned you can’t show that. You have to be an authentic leader 24/7, even when you’re not necessarily enjoying the job that needs to be done.” – Seth King, MBA15


“From the entire course, my biggest takeaway was developing my internal confidence. The leadership academy has helped me understand that you can’t view yourself based on other people, you have to be motivated internally.” – Jia Lei, MBA15


“As the helmsman, I learned the importance of nonverbal communication. You have to focus on staying the course and paying attention to the communication that really matters rather than the noise of the moment. Nonverbal cues make a difference.” – Jessica Wicks, MBA15


“As the captain, you’re responsible for everything. I identified the need for clear communication and making sure your team knows what your moves are. That and planning — you have to plan for the decision-making points along the way.” – Philippe Aeschi, MBA15

 

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