Management is a noun. Manage is verb. Leadership is a noun. Lead is a verb.
We must understand the concepts of management and leadership and we must also practice the skills of managing and leading. Again, as an academic field, we are probably more similar to music and athletics than traditional “concepts only” fields. My academic program has plenty of courses and opportunities for students to study and learn the theories and principles of management and organization, what we needed were more opportunities to develop the skills of managing, leading, and working with people and resources.
Planning and executing a long-distance bicycle ride would give students the opportunity to really practice the skills and concepts that we study in our classes. Broad management skills include planning, organizing, developing strategies, and goal setting. Those skills are tested by calculating costs and making budgets, securing equipment, developing training plans, determining routes and lodging, and promoting the ride. Once on the road, students have to adjust to changing conditions each day–weather, terrain, temperatures and wind, road conditions, traffic, equipment problems, and rider fatigue and safety.
A host of interpersonal and teamwork skills also arise during the course of the project. Communication, problem solving, creativity, conflict resolution, critical thinking, awareness of individual differences, group dynamics, motivation, emotional intelligence, interdependence and teamwork, and other individual- and group-level concepts come to life throughout the project. The planning and execution of the rides also help develop public speaking skills through speaking engagements and media appearances and self confidence in making contact with people for help with funds, lodging, and project organization.
The skills required to organize long-distance bicycle rides line up exactly with the skills described and emphasized in nearly every leadership and management textbook on the subjects. Our bike ride projects have proved themselves to be valuable learning experiences for the students. Empirical data has been collected from our cyclists after their rides and compared to learning outcomes of other types of group projects used by management and leadership educators–the results from the bike ride projects met or exceeded the outcomes of other class projects on every dimension.
As our rides have developed, we’ve learned to make the experiences even more meaningful for the students. Students now serve as “Road Captains” throughout their rides. Road Captains are in charge of and responsible for the plans and riding assignments during their days in charge. Students rotate through Road Captain responsibilities during the rides and spend time debriefing and making sense of their performances at the end of their days.
Students serve in one of three work groups in the months leading up to the start of each ride. They work in either the planning and promotion, routes and lodging, or finance and logistics groups while planning and preparing for the rides. During the rides, they also have work group responsibilities that they perform until the ride is over. The projects are wonderful and living examples of the organization and teamwork concepts that they study in their classes.
We’ve seen a lot of country roads on our rides to date. We look forward to continuing these adventures into the future.