Sailing with the world champion

June 14, 2018

Leadership in exceptional circumstances

When everybody is in the same boat: How can managers best ensure that they have what it takes to deal with unexpected situations, take complex decisions quickly and be flexible in their responses as executives and team players? By sharpening their skills in the real world—aboard a sailing boat and under the guidance of top athletes. This is precisely what happens off the coast of Majorca during the first module of the WU Executive Academy's Executive MBA: On sailing boats, participants are to prove their leadership and team skills in a variety of situations.

In the following, Prof. Wolfgang Mayrhofer, Academic Director of the Executive MBA, explains how this works in practice and what benefits participants can derive from the experience.

Prof. Mayrhofer on a sailing boat
Prof. Wolfgang Mayrhofer on the added value of the outdoor module.

Volatile markets, disruptive competitors and fundamental transformations: In this day and age, it is no longer enough for top and middle managers to function well within the system of “command and control”.

“They are not only required to be good team players capable of spotting danger on the horizon, but they also need to chart a clear course and navigate the corporate ship safely through the storms and troubled waters of the VUCA world together with their crew of employees. So what better way to practice these skills than in the real world?” says Prof. Helmut Kasper, Academic Director of the Executive MBA (Vienna).

Sailing aboard the ChampionSHIP

The WU Executive Academy's Executive MBA offers an opportunity to do just that: During the first module in September 2018, participants will develop their skills not only in class but also aboard sailing yachts off the coast of Majorca. Participants accomplish tasks together, fighting through lows and celebrating highs.

Picture of a sailing boat
How to deal with unexpected situations - guided by top athletes at sea.
Portrait Wolfgang Mayrhofer

Prof. Wolfgang Mayrhofer

  • Academic Director of the Executive MBA

The experience of being literally in the same boat makes participants grow into real teams. Most of them are newcomers to sailing. They have to cope with unexpected situations—for instance, if they get seasick or if the weather suddenly changes and the light wind is getting stronger. This puts executives who are used to knowing everything and having to know everything back into learning mode. Being challenged to provide leadership in exceptional circumstances is an archaic experience, and one that is unique and cannot possibly be simulated in a lecture room.

Prof. Wolfgang Mayrhofer brings not only his academic expertise as a career-research expert and a professor of business administration at WU Vienna to the program but, being a seasoned competitive sailor and an Olympic silver medalist, also a wealth of practical support and advice. He is assisted by world champion, multiple European champion and five-time Olympian Hans Spitzauer. The sailing module also reflects the three pillars of the Executive MBA (Vienna) that run like a thread through the entire program: leading oneself, leading others, and leading the organization.

Testing ground: navigating the boat together

The 13-meter sailing boats provide a real-world testing ground for participants to develop their leadership, coping and team skills. There are easy-to-see parallels between leading an organization and sailing a boat. “Navigating a sailing boat is quite a complex endeavor that requires several people to coordinate their efforts,” explains Wolfgang Mayrhofer. “If they fail to do this properly, they will be in trouble.” Although a clear hierarchy exists on board and people have different roles and duties, two-way communication is more important than anything else, says the expert: “The crew cannot succeed unless crew members constantly coordinate with and give feedback to one another. And that is what modern leadership is about.”

Picture of a sailing team
Teamwork, a clear hierarchy and ongoing two-way communication are essential for both, sailing and modern leadership.

Over the course of a few days, participants can put their leadership behaviors to the test and explore, in a learning environment, familiar as well as unfamiliar situational aspects of leading and being led. Time and again, and in a self-controlled manner, they step out of their comfort zones to rise above themselves and become a close-knit team. This prepares the ground for intense interaction and in-depth learning during the subsequent modules of the Executive MBA (Vienna).

The outdoor module off the coast of Majorca also features a little sailing challenge that requires participants to prove their skills: The teams are to sail their yachts into the harbor all on their own. A never-to-be-forgotten experience that definitely gives them a sense of achievement.

If you want to learn more about the outdoor module and the Executive MBA (Vienna), click here!

Share this