You might say that learning leadership skills is just like riding a bike. Ask Daniels Denver MBA students, however, and they’ll probably say it’s more like building one.
The Denver MBA first-year students got to do both on April 6 during a daylong leadership training designed to reinforce concepts and skills they’re learning in the classroom. The day was made possible by a collaboration between Daniels and two nonprofits: Denver-based Wishes for Wheels, which gifts new bikes and helmets to K-2nd grade students at Title 1 schools or organizations that serve low-income students, and Scholars Unlimited, which supports low-income, academically struggling students through literacy instruction and enrichment programs that foster success and lifelong learning.
Divided into five teams, the Denver MBA students built 25 bikes over the course of five challenges that hinged on effective teamwork and communication skills. In one challenge, each team had to build a bike with three team members blindfolded and two providing instructions. In another, team members’ arms were tied together. A third challenge involved answering questions such as, “What are the four practices/domains that high performing teams must attend to?” Still another challenge had the students reliving their childhoods by racing Big Wheel-type bikes around a loop outside the Daniels building.
“Today is about seeing how the students work together best and where they run into challenges,” said Ali Boyd, Daniels’ director of Leadership and Professional Development. “The students come into the day with intentions about what they’re working on for their own growth and development, and what they want to try. Then when they get into the context of the competition, they see where that falls apart. They get to learn in real-time because they’re getting immediate feedback. They also get to see what happens when they’re pressure-tested. Doing this here and now allows them to improve before they get into the corporate environment.”
Denver MBA student Charlee Ottersberg, a member of the winning purple team, gained new insight into herself over the course of the day. “I’m more competitive than I thought. But being competitive about building and donating these bikes is something I’m okay with,” she said. “I really like the hands-on nature of Daniels. We’re not just in the classroom, we’re actually doing things, whether it be in the challenges or building bikes. And while that may not feel like it has a direct translation to the business world, the ability to work together as a team on a somewhat arbitrary task is something that is transferrable.”
The leadership development came on the eve of the Corporate Challenge, which has Denver MBA students divided into teams and working as consultants on real issues facing companies that have partnered with Daniels. “They’re practicing a lot of the skills that they’ll be putting to use in the Corporate Challenge, so that’s one layer of it,” said Boyd. “Another layer is that they’re having fun, getting out of their heads and taking action. I’d say the third layer to it is feeling connected to other organizations doing good work in Denver and to the broader community.”
The fruits of the day’s labor—the 25 bikes—were donated to students at Denver’s Harrington Elementary School who are enrolled in Scholars After School, an after-school program provided by Scholars Unlimited.
Chris Webster, supreme event commander for Wish for Wheels (yes, that’s really his title), helped facilitate the challenges and the bike-building over the course of the day, and was impressed by the Daniels students.
“The communication was incredible. The challenges take clear communication, clear instructions and the builders have to listen. They obviously were paying attention because these bikes were put together just right.”