This past summer, 17 Flexible MBA students trekked through Norway for nine days. While this may sound like a vacation, it was much more than just backpacking through mountains and waterfalls.
As America’s first research university, Johns Hopkins University is no stranger to taking the classroom to the field for hands-on learning. In July, the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School group ventured through the mountains of Scandinavia not to enjoy the scenery but to expose themselves to new, and often uncomfortable, leadership challenges.
The trip was a Leadership Development Expedition, one of a variety of experiential learning opportunities offered by Carey Business School’s Center for Innovative Leadership. The idea is that students participate in faculty-led adventure expeditions across the world to build their own leadership skills through hands-on experiences leading and working with a team of peers in a challenging wilderness environment.
“The courses are centered around the idea of individual leader development,” said Christopher Myers, PhD, associate professor of Management and Organization and the founding faculty director of the Center for Innovative Leadership. “These experiences are designed to be slightly unfamiliar so that students get the chance to be in a complex situation and work with others to problem-solve on several different issues. It’s a place to try new and different approaches to leading in the face of challenge.”
The expeditions, offered to Carey’s full- and part-time MBA students, start with an application. Once accepted, students go through a reflective process to develop goals around understanding their current leadership skills and areas they would like to improve.
The Leadership Development Expeditions were created and are led by Myers and Mike Doyle, the Center for Innovative Leadership’s executive director and Carey Business School adjunct faculty member.
Doyle and Myers each worked as adventure leadership guides early in their careers. They have experience leading teams and student groups in challenging environments that provide learning opportunities for leadership and teamwork.
“We knew this type of experiential learning would be a good fit for Carey because the university is an innovative business school with opportunities to experiment in different areas,” said Doyle.
And it’s proven to be as effective as both Doyle and Myers anticipated.
“One of the reasons I chose Carey’s Flexible MBA program was for the experiential learning opportunities,” said Iris Kao (Flexible MBA ’23), senior manager of commercialization at Illumina. “The Norway trip allowed me to build relationships with my classmates. Many of them are leaders in different industries, so I was able to learn different leadership approaches throughout the experience.”
Trekking through Norway
As part of the nine-day trek, students can take on the role of “leader of the day.” The leader supports the team by making strategic decisions about various navigational, logistic, and environmental challenges facing the team that day and collaborating with peers to provide constructive leadership. At the end of each day, students receive peer-to-peer feedback, which provides new insights on their strengths and weaknesses as they led the team.
“The experience was humbling,” said Kao. “I was able to understand how to leverage my strengths to continue to grow as a leader while also being held accountable by my peer feedback partner who gave advice on how I could evolve my motivation and influencing skills.”
The nightly debriefing meeting allows students to turn the feedback directly into action items and learning goals, helping them transfer the skills back to the companies where they work so they become more effective and thoughtful leaders.
“The personal growth I experienced on the expedition has translated directly to my current role,” said Pete Tomczak (Flexible MBA ’22), senior manager of strategy and corporate development at CONMED Corporation. “I’m more aware of how I listen and communicate so that I can build the trust to influence without authority. I’m now comfortable leading up, down, or laterally in my organization.”