Careers & Student Outcomes

Putting Leadership Lessons Into Action

Executive MBA students gain insight into collaboration and communication at the annual West Point leadership experience.

While visitors enjoying brunch on Sunday morning at West Point’s Thayer Hotel were figuring out how to balance one more giant shrimp on top of their plate, 200 yards away nine Stevens Executive MBA students were deciding how to balance themselves on top of a 15-foot wall.

One of the highlights of the Stevens program is a transformative weekend experience at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point, the premier leadership academy in the nation.

“Thayer Leadership helps work with our Executive MBA students on their leadership and communication skills,” said Brian Rothschild, assistant dean of graduate studies and senior director of graduate management programs. “They do this through activities which we don't normally perform in the classroom, so it's an extra way of getting our students to learn and use the skills in their office as soon as tomorrow that they brought in from this weekend.”

Four EMBA students sit on top of an obstacle course all with the Thayer Leadership logo discussing what their next move should be. Led by the team at the Thayer Leadership, this year’s agenda included urban orienteering, a “Duty, Honor, Country Guided Experience,” military-style team training, and the leadership reaction course where teammates had to strategize, communicate, and execute their plant to complete different challenges. The weekend was also filled with opportunities to socialize and network with classmates and instructors. And of course, brunch on Sunday afternoon.

“I had a great and enriching experience,” Narender Goel said. “The most rewarding part of the weekend was getting together with my colleagues and getting to know them more closely, so we have a long-term bond. I think that's the most important part. I knew them casually, but I feel like I know them more personally.”

Students were provided a “Reflection Workbook” prior to the weekend to help track their progress. Even before the program began, they were asked to think about how they wanted to learn, how they could get even better at a perceived strength, a particular leadership topic of interest, how to embrace being a novice at certain things, what they value about being part of the team, and how they wanted to strengthen their team.

Reflection continued to be a key theme throughout the weekend with prompts in the workbook to think about how the day’s experiences both reinforced and questioned their views on leadership and teamwork, note their constructive contributions and improvement opportunities, and identify and explore underlying assumptions.

Each activity was followed by an “After Action Review,” the military term used for what is sometimes more commonly called a debrief or postmortem. The sessions allowed the teams to talk about what went right, what went wrong and how they could improve their performance.

“I think for me, it's just making sure that everybody is heard,” said Des Alexander. “Whether you're a leader or follower, making sure that everyone has a seat at the table and we’re all listening to each other and that we're doing all of the touchpoints, the feedback, the tactical pauses, to make sure that we're continuously in alignment.”

For Ritu Prasad, this latest West Point experience was her second. Although she had been through it before, there were plenty of new lessons to be learned.

“It’s always teaching you something new, and it was equally exciting for me this time as well,” she said. “Since I have taken the retreat the last time I got into the leadership role, and this time when I'm listening to professors and teachers, it's giving me a much better perspective on leadership and teamwork and collaboration.”

For Rothschild, the lesson of the weekend is not how to become a leader, but how to become a better one.

The biggest takeaway for the weekend for these students is that they are all already leaders and that they're just taking on these new skills to make them even more efficient leaders.”