Cornell Cultivates Leadership, Elementally

Posted by: Erin Daily on Feb 28, 2013

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.

Photo Credit: Alex Chang


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.”

Photo Credit: Alex Chang

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.

Photo Credit: Steve Markgraf

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
, 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.

Photo Credit: Alex Chang

The Johnson School's Director of Leadership Programs, Jerry
, 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

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.”

Photo Credit: Alex Chang

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."