June 6, 2023
Business students learn leadership in the wilds of Kananaskis Country
Leadership cannot be learned by reading case studies; it needs to be experienced.
This is the philosophy behind the Haskayne Leadership Expedition — a unique, weeklong field course that takes students out of the classroom and into the wilderness to equip them with practical leadership skills.
It was in such an unpredictable and challenging landscape that Sophia Weston, a third-year Bachelor of Commerce student, learned the fundamentals of being an effective leader. She calls the course, which took her and five other students to Kananaskis Country in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, “unconventional for a course in the business school. It’s not textbook readings, it’s not case studies. It’s an experience that will push you out of your comfort zone and force you to grow.”
During the course, students are challenged physically and mentally as they hike through the mountains and navigate the wilderness. They learn how to make quick decisions under pressure, work collaboratively with their peers and communicate effectively to meet the goals of the day.
“Most courses teach you about leadership, but to prepare students for demanding leadership roles in the real world, they need opportunities to practise actually leading with lots of high-quality, immediate feedback,” says Haskayne instructor Dr. Julian Norris, PhD’20, who developed the leadership expedition.
“There’s a big difference between getting accurate feedback that you can immediately put into practice leading your teammates in the middle of a blizzard or a mountain ridge, and getting a grade on your paper three weeks after the whole thing is over.”
The course model is one Weston and her peers quickly put to practise. “We had to draw on each other’s strengths,” she says. “Some people had heavier packs, so we had to share the load. Suddenly, people were carrying more weight so others could have lighter packs and make it to camp without falling over.”
But the Haskayne Leadership Expedition is more than just a crash course in leadership — it’s also an opportunity for personal growth and self discovery. “I love being outdoors and hiking,” says Weston. “I was in my element and having the time of my life on this trip. It reminded me that if you’re doing what you are passionate about in life, even the challenges are a lot of fun.”
But, beyond the fun, the expedition is all about learning to adapt and be a flexible leader while experiencing an adventure like no other. Weston says a highlight of the trip was a night spent stargazing with her peers:
“A big group of us went to Rickert’s Pass, took all our Thermarests and sleeping bags, and went to the very top of the pass, right below the peak,” says Weston. “We saw the planes, the satellites and a couple of shooting stars. We talked about business, as business students do, and got to know one another and hear each other’s stories. It was the highlight of the summer.”
For Weston, the expedition is not only where she lived leadership, it’s also where she found camaraderie after two years of virtual learning.
“The trip was my first in-person university experience and my first time actually meeting my peers,” she says. “It was really intimidating, not knowing anybody and living with them for a week. But, at the end of it, I’ve made some great friends that I still talk to every day. It was definitely the way to start the semester.”
The Haskayne Leadership Expedition, organized by the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business and generously supported by Hal Kvisle is a selective course that admits 24 students per year. Students will be broken up into groups of six and retreat into the mountains from Aug. 27 to Sept. 1.
Applications open every year around mid-February and close mid-March.
Learn more and apply to the Haskayne Leadership Expedition and other unique courses offered by Adventure Leadership Education and the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business.