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A perspective on sailing from Executive MBA Cohort 74

A nearly 20-year tradition, each year, new cohort inductees to the Daniels College of Business Executive MBA program join together in the trip of a lifetime—learning to sail the open waters.

Why sailing? Well, as the skippers put it, because every life lesson can be learned from sailing of course. But on a more strategic note, the sailing trip offers cohort classmates the opportunity to learn and develop as leaders, putting their first five-weeks of knowledge into practice as we learn a brand-new skill, together.

I am part of the Executive EMBA cohort 74, a network 18-people strong of smart, diversified and incredibly talented leaders. The sailing trip took us to San Diego, where we joined four of the world’s best skippers, including those that represented our country in the 1995 America’s Cup. Broken up into four boats, we ventured into the harbor for—what seemed at the time—the impossible task of learning to sail in just two days. On the third day, we put our skills to the test in a nail-biting regatta.


EMBA Cohort 74

As we sailed together we learned together, and a large part of this trip was understanding how the exercise of joining a new team, learning a new skill and putting that into action translates to business. Each day, as our team got to know each other, we went through the four stages of high-performance teams:

  • Forming – the “getting to know you” phase where the team began to learn about each other, establish team rules and collective goals and build trust.
  • Storming – the “getting emotional” phase where the team starts to absorb more about each other, identify personality and “ways-of-working” differences, and take on conflict.
  • Norming – the “getting to love you” phase where the team embraces each other’s differences as strengths and learns how to work together to achieve success.
  • Performing – the “getting to our goals” phase where the team is in full performance mode – working as a collective unit to achieve its goals.

Throughout each stage, the teams are highly focused learning. This includes taking turns in key leadership positions to gain insight from all perspectives. After every “drill,” we came together to debrief to understand how we performed as leaders, collaborators and friends. At the end, there was a clear connection between this new skill we had just learned together, and how this experience can and will apply to our approach as individual leaders.

I was proudly on team Alpha, aka “Three Sheets to the Wind.” Spoiler alert: we didn’t win the race! But, that’s not what this experience was about. In fact, my favorite quote of the trip was from my classmate Trip, who—as he was crossing the finish line, shouted “Hey! My friends won!”—a spirited congratulations to all that made it over the line, regardless of their “place” in the races.

This experience is one my Cohort’s and I will never forget, and the lessons we learned together will continue to impact our leadership development in and out of the classroom. Thank you to the Daniels College of Business for recognizing the value that this trip brings, and for continuing the tradition for many cohorts to come.