If you want to get to your destination, a boat trip that lasts 10 years is probably not the most effective way to go. For the Goizueta Advanced Leadership Academy (GALA), though, a decade-long journey is just about perfect.

GALA launched in 2007 with an ambitious, innovative curriculum featuring a mix of seminars, guest speakers, and tailored coaching designed to develop full-time MBA students into thoughtful leaders. But the true test for GALA fellows came then, as it does now, with a capstone trip to the British Virgin Islands, where fellows put their burgeoning leadership skills to the test by sailing open waters.

“The experience mimics what students would encounter at a new job,” says Harriet Ruskin 90MBA, director in the MBA Program Office and the trip’s organizer. “They don’t know the details of the organization, and this is an opportunity to use their skills in a new environment.”

GALA is a perfect example of experiential learning. The majority of the fellows have little to no nautical experience, so from the outset, it’s sink or sail. But the true educational experience comes with navigating team dynamics.

“The experience of the sailing trip provides an interesting set of metaphors that reveal to students how they work in an organization and how they work in teams,” says J.B. Kurish, senior associate dean for executive education and co-lead for the programs. “The immediate feedback they receive from team members, not to mention to the trajectory of the boat, provides insight and opportunities for self-reflection and course corrections.”

“You learn to work cohesively, develop a culture, celebrate the small wins, and avoid getting bogged down or frustrated with failures,” notes Kim Walter 17MBA. “Most importantly, you understand how to learn from those failures.”

Such insights have been key GALA elements from the beginning, but the sailing trip has evolved in a variety of ways. The fellows’ time on the water now is significantly longer than before, going from 4 days/3 nights to 7 days/7 nights. This results in smaller, more efficient crews (five students, one GBS facilitator, and a professional skipper) that ensure each student sailor can serve in every role the boat allows.

“What makes GALA so effective in leader development is the combination of rigorous coursework to introduce and hone concepts and the sailing trip that then allows them to put those skills into action,” says Ken Keen, associate dean of leadership development and co-lead for the program.

Years after docking, many GALA alumni still list the program as not only the most memorable experience of their time at Goizueta, but among the most treasured times of their lives.