Here's how entrepreneurs make sure that such training is friendly immersion and not baptism by fire:
Decide if it's really for you.
The answer to this question depends on your life stage, the status of your company and other factors. Other options include less intense or more specialized training. "I wasn't sure I wanted the challenge," says SimoneWilliamson, 49, president and CEO of
Be Our Guest Inc.
, a Boston-based event organizer, who completed the OPM course after receiving a scholarship from an alumnus.
Estaban Neely, 46, believed only an immersion class would be worth his time and attended the AMA program. "This can be a lonely position," says the founder and majority owner of eVerge Group , a Plano, Texas, computer-services firm. "Owners have lots of issues that, a lot of times, managers don't see or feel."
Pick "across" or "down."
The first choice to make is between a horizontal experience, with other entrepreneurs from many types of businesses, and the vertical sessions offered within many industries. Horizontal vehicles, such as the AMA and OPM programs, tend to be more expensive, more prestigious and better expand a participant's perspective.
Many entrepreneurs also vouch for vertical programs run by trade groups and other organizations that have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to succeed in a particular industry. Chuck Williams, 48, recently completed a course called the CEO Academy offered by the Georgia Bankers Association. The co-owner and CEO of North Georgia Bank in Watkinsville, Georgia, says it was crucial to be immersed with industry peers because "the regulatory aspects we operate under are one of the key distinctions between running a small bank and any other small business."
Similarly, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) offers a $300 NPMA Academy every year to its members. "It's a great way to network outside my little realm of Abilene, Texas, and find out what people are doing around the country and what I can do to be on the cutting edge," says Patricia Humphrey, 43, president and owner of Lester Humphrey Pest Control Service.
- Prepare to be humbled. Entrepreneurs may see more kowtowing than anyone else in business because not only do they run the place, but they also own it. The best courses remind owners that they don't know it all. "These professors will bring stuff out that makes you feel maybe you're not so smart," says Amedex's Carricarte.
- Seek deeper truths. Many enter leadership training believing their most valuable lessons will be in the areas of policies and procedures, but they come away with more fundamental insights that are ultimately more valuable. Brown, for instance, came to understand how the various members of her management team were motivated differently and embraced an idea she previously had avoided: She needed to demand a sense of urgency in some of them-or fire them.
- Take advantage of being away. The courses offer entrepreneurs a rare chance to disassociate themselves from day-to-day business, and owners who rated their experiences most highly were those who detached themselves the most. Carricarte, for example, says he scheduled about an hour per day to return e-mails and phone calls during his total of nine weeks away from Amedex, but he disciplined himself not to intervene in a significant way in the company's operations during that time. "Last year, they had the company's best-ever month in sales while I was away," he says. "That was a great lesson in itself."
Apply the lessons.
More important than the immersion experience, of course, are the benefits entrepreneurs and their companies realize once they begin applying the lessons learned. For example, Neely says he has already created new internal focus groups to discuss the company's practices and policies and then make recommendations to him. Among the resulting actions has been his decision to make eVerge Group's health benefits program more of a cafeteria-style plan so employees can tailor it as closely as possible to their unique needs.
Event planner Williamson says that by the end of the Harvard course, she had developed both the understanding and the courage to expand Be Our Guest into another nearby building and to work with one of her partners to finally oust a third partner in the $4 million business. "I was able to draw on what other people had told me about not creating a job around a person but creating the right job and filling it correctly," she says. "It was invaluable getting exposed to other people and their businesses. I realized that no matter how big they were, we all had similar problems."
Interested in a leadership boot camp? Here's a list of programs to get you started.
- Advanced Team Concepts : Through workshops and experiential activities, managers learn to be better leaders and teams learn to work together.
- California Ropes Course : Located in Southern California at the Castle Creek Inn-trust, this program teaches appreciation and communication through a ropes course.
- Center for Emerging Leadership : This retreat for women seeking to improve their leadership skills also helps participants better understand teamwork, community, work/life balance and more.
- David Greenberg's Simply Speaking Inc. : Sales and communication skills get a boost as team members make their way through an electronic maze.
- The Game of Work : This program helps increase leadership and team commitment on the ski slopes in Utah.
- ImprovEdge! : Participants strengthen their sales, teamwork, leadership and innovation skills through improvised business situations.
- Leading Concepts : Hands-on military-style training that specializes in teamwork, leadership and communication skill development
- Team Concepts : Through activities such as rowing, running and bobsledding, team members achieve greater performance, find their "noble purpose" and become inspirational leaders.
- Unitree : Participants learn teamwork efficiency through horseback riding, archery, yoga, jogging and various other activities.
- Wharton Leadership Ventures : Wharton School students, graduates and participants in Wharton Executive Education programs learn individual and team leadership skills through such ventures as an Antarctica expedition, Ecuador mountaineering and a Gettysburg battlefield visit.
Dale Buss, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is an author, journalist and editorial consultant in Rochester Hills, Michigan.