Leadership Ventures: Five Myths Debunked

By Stephanie Pow, WG’15

I spent Spring break on the Patagonia Leadership Venture and it is without a doubt one of the best things I have done at Wharton.

The Wharton Leadership Venture Program is designed to help MBA students develop better leadership skills by placing participants in challenging situations outside of the classroom. There are eleven different ventures in total and they are all heavily oversubscribed every year (spots are allocated through a lottery system).

To learn more about the experience itself, I suggest you read Jennifer Royer’s blog post. My post is designed to debunk some of the myths surrounding the ventures.

1) I am not fit enough and I don’t want to be the one slowing down my team

One of the first things we did on arrival in Patagonia was anonymously write down our fears. At least half of the group wrote this down, including me. It should be emphasised that this is not some must-beat-everyone-out-Amazing-Race, but an opportunity to test your physical and mental boundaries. You only need a (very) base level of fitness when you enter the lottery, and the Program offers more than adequate training in the lead up to the Venture itself.

2) Oh, that’s the easy Leadership Venture

Let’s get this straight: there are no “easy” Leadership Ventures. All the Ventures are physically challenging in their own way. For Antarctica, it is the cold; for Cotopaxi, it is the altitude; for Patagonia, it is the terrain and variable conditions; for Tall Ships Sailing, it is the seasickness – you get the idea. Having said that, there are ways to prepare for all of these scenarios so difficulty should not discourage you from signing up.

3) Leadership-smeadership

I must admit, I was a little bit skeptical about the leadership component of the Venture when I signed up, but I really did learn a lot about my leadership style, how I can improve it and how others perceive it. It was also a safe environment to test out my style, to fail and to course-correct – and better in the wilderness than in the workplace right?

4) I don’t know anyone else on my Venture

Actually, that’s the whole idea. Just like when you start a new job, it is very unlikely that you’ll know the people in your team well. This is a good test of your ability to work with different people and in the process, meet classmates whom you probably would not have met otherwise on campus.

5) I can’t do that

Yes you can. You can cook in the snow, pee behind a rock, poo in a bag, set up camp in a blizzard, and do all those other less-than-glamorous parts of camping. My old boss had a great hiring motto: no pricks, no princesses, no passengers. Embrace it.

Final words

When people ask me, “How was your Spring break?” I find it hard to describe the Venture experience in full because there is no substitute. Whatever your fitness level, whatever your camping experience and however good your leadership skills are, there will be something – and most likely, lots of things – for you to gain from the Venture Program.

Originally published on the Wharton MBA site March 27, 2014.

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