Lessons on Leadership from the Women of the Global MBA

By Ingrid Cazalis, Global MBA 2013-2014, France, and the other women of the Global MBA

Boot camp, military camp, leadership camp… So many names for this new MBA trend to do something exotic. The goal of this training is to learn how to lead a team effectively; assess challenges, find alternatives and – most importantly - gather enough information to make the right decision. The key is awareness. For the ESSEC Global MBA, it was also a way to develop cohesion among the new MBA batch; to create a positive dynamic in an unconventional way, outside the classroom in a natural space.

When thinking about starting an MBA, very few of us probably pictured conducting a helicopter rescue of a wounded person in the woods or trying to reach a snake bite victim across a lake.

We spent three days at the Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan Military Academy. I chose to write an article to share the female students’ perspective of the experience. After our first introduction week at ESSEC, we were informed that next week we would be going to the camp to develop our leadership skills. It was impossible to find out concrete information about the trip, except that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were warned that it would be tough, but no details! Pressure on!

When we received instructions to pack only a fork, a knife and hiking shoes for our trip, we could only imagine the crazy scenarios in store. We participated in 15 tasks over three days. Each challenge was supervised by an army officer, who designated a task leader and facilitated a debriefing afterward.

Tuesday, 7:00 AM. The two groups went into action: strategy exercises with no defined leader. The first exercises were a mess, with lots of talking, arguments, and slow decisions. The second day, we discovered how a leader needs to understand and delegate tasks according to the strengths/weaknesses of the team members. Indeed, since we exercised in the water, in the dark, and underground, calming the fears and apprehensions of our teammates was key. Crossing the lake and crawling through a tunnel challenged many of our fears.

I interviewed some of the women of the Global MBA for their take on the exercises:

1/ Which exercise challenged you the most?

The most challenging exercises were those in difficult physical conditions, such as climbing to a high point and jumping, but all of us gathered our courage and jumped into the void (even after a 5 minute delay). Other exercises that took place underground, in a closed space and in the dark, required us to overcome our fears. The whole team was supportive during both these exercises.

2/ Which exercise did you enjoy the most?

The majority of the ladies of the Global MBA declared the tunnel exercise to be the best thanks to its mysterious atmosphere. The second favorite was trekking waist-deep through mud, which pushed us to the edge of our physical limits, but our willpower proved to be stronger.

3/ Three words to define this special experience…

Challenge, leadership, and teamwork! The training was also described as fun, amazing, intense, hard work, and “respect for others.” Even the military food rations got a mention!

  4/ What did the experience teach you about leadership?

- Keep a little distance from a situation; don’t get so involved you can’t see the whole picture – Ting Ting
- Communication with team members is key – Ting Tin & Dhriti
- Adopting a different management style – Ingy & Claudia
- It’s important to have a project leader, even if they’re not explicitly named – Claudia
- Mountains can be moved with a good guide and team spirit – Dhriti
- Anything is possible if we help each other out – Choni
- Useful ideas like SMAP or Effet Majeur - Kathrin
- Limits in one area can be balanced out in areas where you are stronger – Haeri
- Be ready to justify your decision - Ingrid

In conclusion, this week our two nice army officers taught us to listen and pay attention, to act with confidence (even when you have doubts), to try to see the whole picture, and to consider the human dimension. Some of the activities were very physically challenging, which pushed us up against our limits, but by splitting the tasks we learned how to maximize our resources and put our strengths to the best use.

For my part, I found it very important to pay a little attention to everyone and to get to know your team very well. Otherwise we would not have been able to achieve the level of integration necessary to work together.

Finally, I hope everyone enjoyed some of the other activities like the game of Killer I organized and celebrating Choni’s birthday.

Don’t forget our army officer’s leitmotif: BE BOLD!

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