One GIP to the Next

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ‘17

While returning from the recent GIP Nordic Family Business trip I found myself reflecting on the differences in GIP programs and my experiences as part of GIP Patagonia. While the bulk of our time in Sweden and Denmark was spent visiting companies to hear about the strategic challenges of management in a family business context, in Patagonia our focus turned inward to reflect on how developing as a leader will impact management capabilities. As I reminisced I wanted to share some of my biggest takeaways from the 10-day expedition in Patagonia –

Flexing Your Style as a Leader:

Our NOLS instructors led us in an exercise to understand our natural leadership style. On the horizontal axis we ranked ourselves on how freely we shared our opinions and on the vertical axis how freely we shared our emotions. The axes produce four quadrants for the four leadership styles people use to approach challenges, conflicts and problem solving. As it turned out our group had a number of drivers and a sprinkling of the other leadership styles. We learned that while each style had its unique strengths and potential weaknesses, our real focus should be on flexing our natural style given a situation or the audience you are working with. We also learned that as leaders we will need to recognize how our natural style can be perceived by others and how to shift into other quadrants in order to best collaborate with and motivate a team.

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Learning While Leading:

The capabilities of our group ranged from a first time camper to an experienced outdoorsperson and yet despite this range we each were called upon to be the leader of the day during the expedition. This real world simulation represented a classic management challenge – when managers lead people in something they have no personal experience with. Because of weather shifts and the countless outdoor survival skills needed (everything from map reading to how to safely cross a rushing river) we each experienced this challenge and built our comfort in learning and leading simultaneously. The team certainly enjoyed tackling glacial climbs and river crossings and I look forward to real-world opportunities to continue practicing!


Reflections on GIP Patagonia

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ’17

Over the course of ten days in January among the trees, mountains, and glaciers of Patagonia, 29 CBS students pushed themselves physically and emotionally as part of the Global Immersion Patagonia Trek. With the support of NOLS instructors and amid the crisp mountain air we each had the opportunity to practice leadership and teambuilding skills. We learned first hand that plans change as fast as the weather and how important it is for leaders to be able to clearly communicate changing plans and motivate their teams.

Our group consisted of nine students from the Columbia Business School community who, while we did not know each other well at the outset of the trip, quickly got to know one another closely around our campfire stoves and over meals of cous cous and soup. Each daily expedition gave us the opportunity to support the designated leader of the day – examining his or her leadership style and providing constructive feedback. We traveresed numerous streams and used the “train technique” to cross an especially strong waist-deep river. The groups persevered amid steep uphill climbs, constant variations in weather, wet socks, heavy bags, and one instructor’s ailing health. We built strong relationships, discovered new passions for wilderness survival techniques, and returned to CBS excited to share our learnings with the broader school community.

By the end of the expedition my team had covered over 35 miles of rough terrain and scaled a mountain to spend time reflecting on group feedback next to a glacial lake. We travelled the furthest south of any of the teams and it felt particularly significant to reflect on my growth as a leader while gazing at stunning glaciers at the bottom of the world.

Photo Credit – Matt Levine

Ready, Set, Take off to Patagonia

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ‘17

CBS students are currently in transit from all over the globe toward Chile to begin our Global Immersion Patagonia expedition. Thirty students will be spending the next ten days working in teams to scale glaciers and explore the wilds of Patagonia. With well-worn hiking boots, cameras, and fingers crossed we are taking to the skies.

Knowing that I’m going to be away from phones and all technology for the next 10 days I have been catching up with family and friends before takeoff. In those conversations I find myself answering the same main question – “Are you ready?” This triggers my internal checklist: Do I have my waterproof jacket? Did I bring the coffee? Can I carry my hiking poles aboard the plane? Is my flight delayed by the recent storms? However while all of these considerations are relevant for my physical arrival in Chile with my equipment, people are really asking about my readiness as a person and as a leader.

Our host in Patagonia, the Northern Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), emphasizes the wilderness living and leadership skills students will practice amid the expedition. NOLS will require each of us to navigate the terrain safely, serve as the designated leader, take initiative, and balance group and personal goals all while living outside. Thus I’ve come to understand that each time someone asks “Are you ready?” they are really asking about whether our CBS cohort is prepared physically and mentally to spend 10 days together actively honing our skills and forging strong relationships. Based on our teamwork throughout the semester and our combined training miles, the answer is “Yes, CBS is ready for NOLS Patagonia and here we come!

Patagonia Preparations

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ’17

With just under two weeks to go until 30 students embark on the GIP Patagonia trip throughout the Coyhaique region, I have found myself reflecting on my preparation throughout the semester. The fall months have been dominated by studying team dynamics, researching waterproofing techniques, and steadily building up a tolerance to carry a 50-60lb. backpack over uneven terrain for 10 days. While I have learned more at my local hiking store than I ever thought possible, in this post I want to share more about our in-class preparation prior to our upcoming meeting with the Northern Outdoor Leadership School guides.

This semester has called on each of us to explore our personal leadership style and think through our goals in taking on this journey. Our first of three intensive sessions with Professor Morris brought us into the field where teams practiced group communication when completing 15 obstacles in Riverside Park. While I was initially unsure about simulating a medical evacuation of a critically injured peer or purifying water using a filtration system just two blocks from campus, I left the session feeling more confident about the upcoming trip. Our second session pushed us to complete an Everest climbing simulation, afterwards debriefing how individual goals impacted each teams’ success. Finally, in our last session we dissected a disastrous expedition to understand the importance of authentic leadership. To close out our offsite preparation we established personal goals and shared them with a teammate who will help to hold us accountable and provide feedback throughout the trek. I’m happy to be embarking on this trip with my committed peers because it is one thing to think through goals from a comfy armchair and quite another to be accountable amid Patagonia’s notoriously volatile weather and long days of hiking. I’m so excited to learn from the men and women who have signed up to share this experience in Patagonia.