Since coming back from the Patagonia Global Immersion trek I’ve been asked a lot about the trip and have found it difficult to express the details of the trip with words alone. Describing natural beauty is hard. Describing life-changing experiences is perhaps harder.
To help make sharing the experience a little easier, I created this short video shot over 8 days, during moments of physical challenge, personal reflection, and joy.
26 CBS students split into 3 separate groups recently made their way through the backcountry of the Patagonia wilderness over 8 days of hiking. Each group was led by two instructors from NOLS who taught us essential backpacking and navigation skills while instilling in us an appreciation for the power and beauty of the wilderness. Each day, the groups split up into hiking teams led by a Designated Leader from the team, responsible for delegating roles and leading their team to that evening’s destination. Each night at camp, the hiking teams would sit down to reflect, debrief, give feedback, and set plans for the following day.
Despite these structural guidelines for the trek, there was plenty of uncertainty and ambiguity to manage. Routes planned the night before were often revealed in reality to be impossible to traverse, requiring significant backpedaling or consideration of more difficult terrain. Beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine would be blown away before our eyes, replaced with strong gusts of wind and rain which forced us to scramble to put up tarps to keep dry. Aches and pains in our backs and legs would make us question whether we had the physical strength and fortitude to put on our 60-pound bags the following day for another full day of hiking.
MBA students are natural planners, and leading teams under this adversity and ambiguity was a challenge for many. Luckily, MBA students are also adaptable and quick to learn, and by the last few days we had the technical competency to navigate through the uncertainties of the wilderness with little guidance from our instructors. Instead of fearing the remaining adversity and uncertainty that no level of skill or experience could overcome, we learned to tolerate and at times even welcome it (an ability that we all hope to bring back into our “frontcountry” lives).
As business school students in New York City, our minds are always one phone buzz, ping, reminder, or alarm away from being pulled into a world of coffee chats, interview preparation, and social media interactions. Removed from those distractions in Chilean Patagonia, we experienced a level of flow and focus on the present that is almost impossible to capture in our daily lives. The expedition allowed us to press pause on the constant stream of information, responsibilities, and deadlines that run through our days, offering us the opportunity to reflect on personal goals, to appreciate the privilege that allowed us to experience such beautiful landscapes, and to center ourselves before facing head-on the last semester of business school.
Ever since I signed up for the GIP Patagonia excursion this past summer, I’ve been trying to imagine the upcoming expedition. Through reading previous year’s blogposts and looking at photographs of past treks, I have a vague idea of what to expect from the Patagonian landscape – magnificent scenery, starry night skies, and volatile weather that can swing from downpour to sunshine within an hour. However, I’ve found it almost impossible to imagine the emotions and feelings I will experience, from the full-body fatigue after grueling daylong hikes with a 60-pound bag to the euphoria of conquering a particularly challenging climb or river crossing.
As someone who likes to plan ahead, the ambiguity and uncertainty of how I will handle a 10-day hike is admittedly a bit nerve-wracking. To offset the anxiety, I’ve spent the past few months mentally and physically preparing myself, including a daylong hike in the Catskills with the Leadership Lab and carrying a 40-pound backpack (full of weights and textbooks) around Brooklyn and Central Park. Of course, New York City is not Patagonia. Similar to practicing for a competition, performance, or presentation, it’s impossible to simulate the conditions of the actual event, but hopefully the practice (no matter how artificial) has prepared me to better deal with the unexpected.
My classmates and I will be flying to Chile in less than a week, and I think all of us are walking the fine line between excitement and anxiety for what’s to come. Outside of individual preparation like mine, as a class we’ve spent the last semester discussing decision-making under pressure, learning about trekking gear and equipment, and practicing wilderness techniques like administering first aid and reading topographical maps. I think we’re as ready as we’ll ever be for the expedition, and I’m looking forward to finally stop anticipating and start experiencing.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.