Rowing Your Way towards Stronger Leadership

Far from sightseeing, participants learned how to row as a part of an eight-person team, and ultimately participated in a short race to test their developing skills under the pressure of competition. Along the way, a host of new insights were gained.

“This innovative session is a great example of ‘Gameful Engagement,’” said Associate Dean Gaylen Paulson, who debriefed the session. “We know that people learn really well through engaging and memorable experiences. After spending a couple of hours on the lake, we had a rich discussion, ultimately drawing lessons that participants can subsequently apply back in the workplace.”

Custom Programs Director Nancy Nagle agrees. “Rowing in an eight-person shell is an amazing experience. There are few environments I’ve encountered that so thoroughly require such a high level of team alignment and coordination, and the debrief really brings home the applications.” In preparation for their morning on the water, the leaders read Daniel James Brown’s, “The Boys in the Boat.” This bestseller powerfully captures the joys and pains of the sport of rowing, while inspiring various insights into teamwork, leadership, adaptation, and competition.

Rowing in an eight-person shell is an amazing experience. There are few environments I’ve encountered that so thoroughly require such a high level of team alignment and coordination, and the debrief really brings home the applications.

The program is a part of a broader tailored curriculum for an Austin-based organization, spanning 10 half-day sessions. Collectively, the program aims to equip leaders with a higher level of business acumen, leadership capabilities, and communication skills, preparing them to take on future challenges. Responses to the program have been very positive, as organization members have noted the additional benefit of an expanded network of relationships. One participant wrote, “We’ve been able to learn a lot from each other, and I also have a variety of new people I can reach out to beyond (my department).”

The crewing event, held at the Texas Rowing Center, gave group members the opportunity to practice and develop skills on land prior to heading onto the water. Once in the boats, teams worked to develop their stroke, aspiring to feel the power associated with working in sync, what in rowing parlance is called “swing.” One of the rowers noted, “It’s difficult to get everyone in sync, but when it happens, it’s the most incredible feeling.”

rowing rowing

If you are interested in speaking with us about designing a program for your organization (even one that doesn’t involve rowing), please contact our Director of Custom Programs Nancy Nagle at nancy.nagle@mccombs.utexas.edu.