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Haas “Extreme Leadership” Course Takes Students to Andes, Patagonia

When you picture an MBA classroom, you might not immediately picture extreme landscapes like Patagonia or the Andes, but that’s exactly where students at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business went as part of a new leadership course offered by the school.

The course, called Extreme Leadership, grew from a trek a group of Haas students took together in Antarctica. During the trip, the students saw how being outdoors in extreme environments put their leadership skills to the test.

When they got back, they approached Haas professor Omri Even-Tov about creating an independent study in which they could discuss and consolidate the lessons the trip had taught them.

Instead, Even-Tov did them one better: with the help of the students, he created a new course that culminates with a hike in either the Andes or Patagonia.

In the course, students begin by learning about leadership, trying out different approaches to leadership, and reflecting on their own tendencies as leaders.

According to Jennifer Chatman, the other Haas professor involved in teaching the Extreme Leadership course, this preliminary period of learning leading up to the trek helps students get the most out of the experience.

In particular, it “allows students to plan for the challenges, and also to gain insights into their own ‘go to’ leadership styles and where those can be most effective, and, importantly, where they can grow as a leader.”

Chatman says that this phase of the course helped students build tools and awareness “before they had to manage the group in extreme conditions.”

If the students enrolled in the course signed up for extreme leadership, extreme leadership is exactly what they got.

For example, one of the Andes trekking groups describes scrambling down the slope of the 17,800 foot Cerro el Plomo with lightning cracking around them and their hair standing on end.

Second-year MBA student Jeremy Carlson explains that “when things became hard for some members on the team, it was a time of greatest fracturing for our group.”

That kind of challenge is exactly what students in the Extreme Leadership course were looking for, although they admittedly may not have known they were signing up to dodge bolts of lightning.

Jeff Neblett, a student who did the Patagonia trek, proclaimed: “This is a hands-on leadership experience that I wanted to get out of business school.”

The Extreme Leadership course, which will be offered again this fall, definitely seems to be a plus for those looking to build leadership skills in a challenging situation that tests them in a different way than the typical MBA classroom experience.

If you’re interested applying to Haas and seeking out that kind of MBA experience, we would be happy to be a resource for you in the application process. Ask us for a free assessment, and we’ll tell you how you stack up with other applicants at Haas and how you can emphasize your unique strengths to the adcom!