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Fall 2006 Issue
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    No Need for First Impressions: Experience Says It All
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No Need for First Impressions: Experience Says It All
Leadership Lessons from NOLS Pro Grad Jeff Klein
By Karly Rausch

Jeff Klein after the Alaska Mountaineering Leadership Venture

Whenever speaking with Jeff Klein, assistant director of the Wharton Leadership Ventures Program, there is always a song playing in the background. This time around it is Cal Smith’s “It’s Time to Pay the Fiddler.” But the song, ironically, is the polar opposite to Klein’s view of the world. As our conversation progresses and I glean the following tidbits from Klein’s experiences, it’s clear that Klein has a rosy view of what’s on the horizon.

Your job should do what you would do if you didn’t need the money.
“This is the first job I’ve had where I’ve actually been able to say, ‘I can’t believe they pay me to do this,’” remarks Klein when asked about the highlights of working for Leadership Ventures. As a program that runs wilderness courses for first year MBA students at the Wharton School of Business, Leadership Ventures offers the leaders of tomorrow a unique opportunity to hone their skills in the great outdoors while learning necessary business school survival skills. Klein became a Leadership Ventures trip leader, known as an Adventure Fellow, during his second year in the Master’s program at Wharton, and it was then that he had his first run-in with NOLS.

First impressions are useless.
NOLS Professional Training ran a three-day leadership training for Adventure Fellows in the fall of 2004, which Klein participated in. “I was really impressed,” Klein says, but also conceded that he initially thought John Kanengieter, director of NOLS Professional Training and co-instructor of the first Wharton training, was a serious, soft-spoken man.

“That tells you the value of first impressions.” Klein chuckles. Kanengieter, well known for his enthusiasm and ebullient personality, exhibits both when asked about the partnership between NOLS and Wharton. “It’s a great example of how NOLS Pro works best in educational partnerships,” Kanengieter explains excitedly. “It’s a good mix of theoretical and experiential education and that captures different learning styles and really adds value and impact to the program.”

The partnership between Wharton and NOLS is fed by enthusiasm from both sides. “I think [NOLS’] ability to understand our program and its goals and to connect with the students made it a wonderful experience,” says Klein. “They packed a lot of content into a really short period of time. It was the beginning of Wharton Leadership Ventures adding more than logistical planning to the trips. Fellows could now allow learning to happen at a deeper value.” Other recent developments include more training for Wharton’s Executive Education program as well as a winter expedition run by NOLS Professional Training for the Leadership Ventures program.

It’s all about the journey.
The voice of practicality led Klein to the Wharton School of Business after an introduction into the processes of teamwork and leadership on an Outward Bound course at Penn State, his alma mater. Once he got involved at Wharton with Leadership Ventures as an Adventure Fellow and took the leadership training with NOLS Professional Training, he jumped at a second opportunity to work with NOLS in the spring of 2005. The school had turned to Wharton to help with a new business model for NOLS Professional Training and through that experience Klein was able to work closely with members of NOLS’ Executive Director Team (EDT) and have conversations about the mission and purpose of NOLS. “That experience [with NOLS], and the idea that expeditions have such a transformational potential and power for people, led me into the Wharton Leadership Ventures job,” notes Klein, and when the Leadership Ventures Assistant Director position opened in August of 2005, a voice told Klein to act. “I’m a journey guy as opposed to a destination guy,” explains Klein. “I don’t have a goal in terms of ‘let’s be in this place 15 years from now,’ and it just felt right that this job would be out there.”

Make the world a better place.
NOLS refers often to the de facto leadership that graduates will face after their NOLS course—the idea that one’s peers will look to him or her for leadership by virtue of a NOLS diploma. “There’s an easy comparison of that to Wharton students,” says Klein, who is obviously very fond of the students he works with. “At Wharton the quality of the students blows me away. The potential they have to impact the world in the future is so apparent. When they participate in a program like Wharton Leadership Ventures, we have the ability to make them more aware of themselves, their impacts and their responsibilities to groups, selves and communities. In my little way, I have to believe that will make the world a better place.”

And just as one begins to think what a serious and philosophical man Jeff Klein is, he starts to laugh. “Yeah, I’ll never hear the end of it if that ends up in print.” Remember, first impressions are useless.

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