Written by Alyssa Walker

In the business world, leadership is key. While you can learn a lot from books and lectures, you learn the most from experience. Those experiences don't need to be traditional, either.

How do you get the skills you need to make it in the business world? Get off the beaten track. From race cars to keeping a notebook, take a look at these six unusual ways to learn leadership.

1. Head for the wilds

Increasingly, business programs offer their students leadership opportunities outside the norm, specifically, wilderness experiences.

Why? Uncertainty.

Leading in the business world requires the ability to lead in uncertain situations. One of the best places to learn that? Where anything goes: the great outdoors.

A recent article in the Financial Times details an expedition sponsored by the University of Exeter Business School. EMBA students had to navigate a route across 30 miles of untracked terrain in Hardangervidda National Park in Norway. While the group didn't complete the challenge, Stuart Robinson, the EMBA director of the program, said it is more effective at developing leaders than classroom instruction. 

He said, “If you learn about economics, then you need to sit in a classroom and read books, as it’s mostly theory. But developing leadership traits, including good decision making and emotional intelligence — that can only be done through real-world experiences.”

One EMBA student, Nigel Ashworth, Europe, Middle East, and Africa channel manager at business intelligence company Informa, said that the experience made him a better communicator. He said, “Every day we had a different group leader. I had to discuss the route I wanted to take and get everyone’s buy-in. I learned to articulate my ideas better, motivate others and build trust.”

2. Learn to drive race cars

No, it's not a solo sport. And yes, you get to drive fast cars. You also have to communicate rapidly and efficiently by radio communication with pit crews while flying around courses at top speed. Turns out that learning how to communicate effectively at 210 miles per hour is just as effective as navigating difficult terrain.

3. Sing karaoke

Be the first person up there and take a risk. In business, you want to be first. Get all the practice you can get by truly putting yourself out there and busting out a tune when no one else will.

What's it about? Developing confidence in risky, uncertain situations. You know the outcome you want. Make it happen!

4. Keep a journal

Journaling is good for you anyway, but it is especially helpful in the leadership realm. 

New to it? Try one entry per week, and jot down a few key things you accomplished. You will be forced to see things in a different light and your entries will rapidly go beyond the few key things. 

You may start writing down your long-term goals, badly handled situations, what to do better next time, and even time-management secrets.

Here's your first assignment: write down the five best traits of a leader and take it from there. Run with it.

5. Interview someone you admire

Successful people leave clues in the wake of their success. Pick someone at work and suggest grabbing a coffee. Ask them to share their insights and advice.

If the person you admire is a really busy person, ask if you can email them some questions if they can't meet in person. 

If you show interest and a desire to learn from someone, it is likely they will make the time for you.

Need a good starting place? Ask them to tell you about themselves.

6. Find a mentor

We can't stress this enough. Being a leader means knowing when you don't know something. It means asking for help when you need it. 

Look toward your professional network for some guidance and find someone with whom you really click. Start with that interview (see #5). You never know: in addition to a mentor, you may just find a friend, too!


ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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