Six years ago, Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, took a group of MBA students on a field trip. Their destination: the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Their assignment: Spend the day walking the historic site, recreating and evaluating the leadership decisions and command structures that General Robert E. Lee struggled with 139 years ago. According to Useem, author of The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All, there's value in getting outside the classroom and heading straight to the firing line. Today Useem leads MBA students and executives on similar experiential-learning trips through Wharton Leadership Ventures, a kind of Outward Bound for business leaders. "It's a living laboratory," says Useem. "We go from combat to self-contemplation." This year's trips include the Gettysburg outing; a "peacekeeping mission" at the U.S. Army Training Technology Battle Lab at Fort Dix, New Jersey; and a self-awareness program that uses meditation.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.