Thursday, January 30, 2014

Leadership Academy Pinnacle Paintball Lessons

By Brian Hathaway, Second-year MBA, Entrepreneurship 

“Visual on the hostage!” My heart was racing. After negotiating with ethically-challenged informants, overcoming the friendly-paintball-fire death of our squad leader (sorry about that, Karee), and saving the world from chemical weapons, our day at Pinnacle Leadership’s outdoor military-style training came down to one defining moment. Were enemies waiting to ambush us? How should we try to rescue the hostage? Why had I eaten so much pizza?

Unfortunately, we ended up riddling the (it turns out, unguarded) hostage with paintball bullets. Apparently firing indiscriminately in the general direction of the first noise you hear isn’t always the best idea – who knew? Hey, it was dark outside.

Even though that mission ended in failure, the day was a huge success. The Special Forces veterans of Pinnacle Leadership provided lessons on leadership, followership, trust within teams, dealing with ambiguity, and situational awareness, among many other topics. With internship season in full swing, I wanted to share some key takeaways with first-year students who may be looking for a leg up:

Learn from each experience. As individuals, as organizations, and even as a society, we tend to be inefficient at learning. The Pinnacle experience resonated because we were constantly learning from our experiences through After-Action Reviews (AARs). The day was filled with long stretches of planning followed by brief spurts of action. As a team, we grew more capable throughout the day because we relentlessly dissected those spurts, helping us to build on our successes and learn from our mistakes (and thus avoid repeating them).

Similarly, interview season quickly becomes a slog – days of waiting and preparation punctuated by brief, high-stakes interactions. It’s easy to adopt a stance of bracing oneself for the next evaluation, and/or praying for it to just be over already. My full-time job search turned around when I began to embrace each interview as a chance to learn and grow, rather than a definitive ruling on my worth as a candidate and human being. That switch was critical for my enjoyment of the process and, ultimately, my success in getting the job I wanted.

Don’t just practice your answers – practice dealing with stress, too. One of the most valuable aspects of the Pinnacle experience was being forced to act decisively under pressure. Even though we knew it was a simulation, we all felt very real pressure and anxiety throughout the mission.

It seems obvious in retrospect, but gaining experience under these conditions reminded me that interview “preparation” is about more than memorizing CAR statements. I had always been frustrated by the gap between my performance in mock interviews and real interviews. The issue wasn’t the amount of work I was putting in, but rather the type of work. After Pinnacle, I sought out situations that stretched me beyond my comfort zone – many of which had nothing to do with business or interviews. The gap between my mock performance and interview performance soon narrowed considerably.

Trust those around you. At Pinnacle, we quickly realized that no individual could accomplish a task alone. We had to trust each other – and earn each other’s trust – to get the job done as a team. Students often feel isolated during the interview process, as though they must shoulder the entire burden on their own. But the reality is that you’re surrounded by people who want to help – second-year students, #1 ranked Graduate Career Services staff, and dedicated faculty members. I’ll leave you with a simple challenge to cultivate the courage to engage these resources more consistently. As a starting point: my Outlook calendar is up to date!


  1. Were enemies waiting to ambush us? How should we try to rescue the hostage? Why had I eaten so much pizza? Pick My Paintball Gun

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