M&T junior Kristen Tilley, W’19, SEAS’19, describes the leadership lessons she learned on a Wharton Leadership Venture Sailing Expedition in the Caribbean.

Before you can successfully lead a team, you need to learn how to be part of a team.

Kristen Tilley, W’19, SEAS’19, learned what it means to be a team player on a sailboat, where you really do need all hands on deck. A junior in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology, Kristen joined a crew of other undergrads on a Caribbean Sailing Expedition organized by the Wharton McNulty Leadership Program.

It’s just one of several outdoor, experiential treks available to students as part of Wharton Leadership Ventures. These immersive 7- to 10-day trips provide an environment of uncertainty and challenge where leadership, decision-making, and communication skills are key.

Kristen signed up for the trip because sailing is something she has always wanted to do and recently got involved with through Penn Sailing. “Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect!” she said. “I looked forward to experiencing something new and different – something way outside of life in a classroom.”

Learning to Be Part of a Crew

Her team jumped into the nuts and bolts of sailing right away, mastering the basics: raising the anchor or dropping a mooring ball, raising sails, tacking and gybing, navigation, etiquette, and dropping anchor or picking up a ball at a new location each night. Each day, everyone had a chance to take on a new role: captain, first mate, navigator – they each tried them all.

Wharton Leadership Ventures Sailing Expedition
Kristen and her classmates aboard their sailboat on the Wharton Leadership Ventures Caribbean Sailing Expedition.

“We worked together as a cohesive, self-sufficient unit, performing all necessary operations on the boat, from cooking meals to cleaning the boat and doing all necessary checks,” Kristen said. “I loved learning how to work as part of a crew of a big boat while experiencing the natural beauty of the Virgin Islands.”

Between sailing sessions, they had the opportunity to swim out to and explore many of the islands. “On the very first morning of the trip, we did a sunrise hike up to the highest point on one of the smaller islands in the British Virgin Islands. It was incredible to look out at the other islands around us, with ocean as far as the eye could see,” Kristen said. “It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.”

Identifying Your Strengths and Leadership Style

Besides getting to learn the ins and outs of sailing in the open ocean, the undergrads also learned about their own personal leadership styles and how they work in a team. One defining moment was the challenge day where they were in charge of the boat for the day while their captain sat back, only intervening if they were doing something that could put them or the boat in danger.

“After the experiences of the day, along with feedback and reflections from everyone involved, I realized one of my strengths: providing a calming presence to help the team take a step back and walk through things logically,” Kristen said.

“However, I also found I tend to sit back and quietly analyze, potentially drowning out my voice among others who are more vocal and assertive. I certainly took away some new strategies from the experience and definitely learned how to be a more effective leader and team member in other endeavors.”

Outside of Your Comfort Zone

All in all, the Wharton Leadership Ventures are a fantastic opportunity for Wharton students to step out of their comfort zones and experience something that will stay with them for years to come, Kristen noted.

“Sometimes, especially as M&Ts, we can get caught up in everything we’re involved in around campus,” she said. “Trips like Wharton Leadership Ventures give us space to step away from our usual life at Penn, meet a new and diverse group of people, and walk away with a new perspective.”

This story was adapted from an article that originally appeared on M&T For Life.

Posted: April 26, 2018

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