Leadership development is one of the main goals business professionals have when they decide to enrol in business school. Yet not many of them realise that leadership can also be groomed and strengthened beyond the classroom. Formats such as pre-MBA bootcamps and team activities are a great way to bring class participants together in a different setting and improve their soft skills.

What is an MBA bootcamp?

If you are currently exploring business school options and trying to choose the right programme, you may have already come across the term “bootcamp”. MBA bootcamps are designed for prospective or current students and combine different trainings and activities spread throughout one or more days. Their focus and structure can be as diverse as the schools organising them. Some bootcamps mimic military-style activities involving a lot of strategy and physical effort, while others centre around company visits or interpersonal exercises. Whatever the format, these events bring immense value in terms of teamwork and communication skills, problem-solving, multicultural awareness, and leadership – qualities that are in high demand in the corporate world.

Read: How the MBA Delivers Immersive Learning Experience

Bootcamps for prospective students

Pre-MBA bootcamps – events that take place before the start of the programme – are especially useful for professionals who prefer to ease into the business school experience more gradually. For class participants who are already enrolled and about the start their studies, the pre-MBA format enables them to meet their fellow classmates in a non-academic environment.

A different approach can be to host pre-MBA events for professionals who have not yet applied to business school but are considering doing so. This format resembles a mini-MBA experience and often has its own competitive application and selection process. A popular example is the Summer Pre-MBA Boot Camp at CEIBS (China). As BusinessBecause editor Thomas Nugent describes, the one-week bootcamp initiated seven years ago only accepts applicants who are enrolled in, or have graduated from, an accredited undergraduate programme. “They must also be thinking about an MBA in the near future and have a minimum of one year’s work experience,” adds Mr Nugent, summarising the format's requirements.

Learn more about MBA programmes at CEIBS by taking a look at this handy school profile.

According to Emily David, Assistant Professor of Management at CEIBS, the bootcamp is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the groupwork and discussion of a real MBA classroom. Professionals who wonder about the topics covered in business school studies can get just the glimpse they need. “It shows the calibre of the faculty, and the [students] can try a bit, and learn a bit without the pressure that goes with [the MBA],” adds Ms David. Thanks to the diverse mix of international and career backgrounds, bootcamps for prospective students also present an excellent arena to network and meet other aspiring leaders.

Military-style bootcamps

Bootcamps can be valuable even when they do not strictly replicate the overall MBA study process. Activities inspired by military training are well-known and popular methods used in MBA bootcamps to give professionals a boost in their leadership development. One of the institutions that prefer this experiential approach to learning is Smith School of Business, Queen’s University in Canada. An article published in the Financial Times reveals that the experience is based on a series of challenges – “from driving a Humvee blindfolded to planning a covert operation” – all of which require participants to work together to solve problems.

Learn more about MBA programmes at Smith School of Business by taking a look at this handy school profile.

Diana Drury, Director of Team and Executive Coaching at the Canadian school, strongly believes in the potential for leadership development offered by such MBA learning formats. While executives with a more traditional perspective might initially find the approach too extravagant, military-style bootcamps really help to improve participants' collaboration and quick thinking. “Smith’s pilot programmes led to a greater understanding among students of how people perceive and process critical information differently, when to step up as a leader and when to step back, and how to think differently when you are outside your comfort zone,” Ms Drury told the Financial Times.

This style of leadership training is not a new phenomenon. For years, the French school HEC Paris has been organising off-campus seminars featuring distinctive tasks such as building a bridge across a river. This is an unforgettable team-building experience, according to the organisers and the MBA participants themselves. “The Off-Campus Leadership Seminar’s physical and mental challenges teach you how to motivate others even when you are outside your comfort zone,” as the HEC Paris website points out.

Read: The MBA Journey of Self-Discovery

Of course, there are many other types of bootcamp worth exploring, especially during the summer and before starting your principal MBA study. These can range from math camps to company-hosted events. Even if the opportunity is dedicated only to networking, for example, it still has the potential to enhance participants’ leadership development by helping them benchmark various industries.

There is something for everyone out there.