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Spice It Up

Unique ways to learn business leadership

How to become a better businessperson in three easy steps:

1. Realize you are somehow lacking as an entrepreneur--perhaps you can't lead a horse to water or manage your way out of a paper bag.

2. Cry because you fear the sheer girth of most business texts.

3. Dry your tears and pick your favorite things to do--recite Shakespeare, play chess, bake a quiche. Apply those skills to your office dilemma and shout, "Yay, hobbies!"

Here are some fun ways to help you become the business leader of your dreams:

  • Shakespeare: Learn business strategy from the Bard through a collaboration between Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London and the Cranfield School of Management in Bedford, England. Created by Richard Olivier (yep, he's the son of Sir Laurence), the two-day program uses plays like The Merchant of Venice and Henry V to exemplify business lessons. In The Winter's Tale, leaders learn how to accept change and to listen to advice through the example of King Leontes, who ignores the advice of an oracle, abandons his daughter and loses his wife. His daughter, Perdita, grows up in a foreign land where a prince falls in love with her. The lesson? When talented employees are unrecognized, they'll find another place to bloom.
  • Cooking: The Columbus State Community College Culinary Academy in Columbus, Ohio, offers private cooking classes focusing on workplace team-building. Small groups of participants are given a recipe to prepare, often with a problem like lack of one ingredient. "It helps them work together by having them plan work, allocate resources, divide the work, and decide if someone will be a leader and how they're going to check quality," explains Carolyn Claycomb, coordinator of the academy. Bonus: You get to chow your results--that is, if they're edible.
  • Checkmate: If you can strategize the offing of your opponent's queen, imagine what you can do to your competitors. Joanne Mooradian Hidirsah uses chess to teach her clients critical thinking skills through her Andover, Massachusetts, consulting firm, A+ Services. By understanding chess logically, intuitively and hands-on, you can glean lessons (like "protect your customers as you would your kingdom") and plan your business moves as you would your chess moves.
  • Self-hypnosis: Like meditation, self-hypnosis soothes stress in high-pressure situations. "The subconscious doesn't reason. It just takes feedback from your conscious mind," explains Wayne Perkins, a clinical hypnotherapist and author of How to Hypnotize Yourself Without Losing Your Mind (Trafford Publishing, $26.95, 888-232-4444). "If you're consciously upset, your subconscious starts manifesting stress." You can visit a hypnotherapist like Perkins to discover the source of your tension, or try this D.I.Y. exercise next time you're put on hold before a sales call: Close your eyes and breathe deeply three times while picturing the tension leaving your lungs as you exhale. When the other line picks up, you'll snap back with a clear head and relaxed manner.
  • The Music Paradigm: Conductor Roger Nierenberg seats Music Paradigm participants right in the thick of a symphony orchestra. "Through watching the orchestra as a complex organization, powerful insights can be gleaned about the [participating company]," says Nierenberg, who began his New York City business in 1994. Nierenberg has the musicians model various behaviors during the session, then engages participants and musicians in a lively discussion about the possible lessons. "It's spontaneous, and the insights that come up are discovered by the [participants themselves]," he says. "People leave with a fresh look at themselves and a metaphorical structure for talking about it with other people."
  • Historical and living cases: Like The Music Paradigm, Executive KnowledgeWorks in Palatine, Illinois, helps clients draw parallels and lessons from unusual sources with custom-built management development programs. In historical cases, companies revisit time periods like the Battle of Gettysburg, which serve as metaphorical lessons for leadership skills. Living cases unite two seemingly unrelated organizations, like The Gap and Robert Redford's Sundance Ranch or Knight-Ridder and NASA. Participants bounce ideas off one another and receive extra input from specially selected professors.
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