SEMESTER SERIES: KIRK SMITH – An Interview on the Leader’s Reaction Course

A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.”  –General George S. Patton, Jr.


Recently, students from the Goizueta Business School had the opportunity to participate in a unique challenge: The Fort Benning Leader’s Reaction Course. At this course, students are divided into small teams and are given a short period of time to complete several distinct obstacles. I sat down with one of my first year classmates, Dave Swirsky, to get his perspective on the activity and why it added value to his GBS experience.

Kirk: Dave, thank you for taking time out of you busy day to sit down with me and discuss the Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) in Fort Benning, GA. For the people listening in, can you tell them about what the LRC is and why you got up at the crack of dawn to go up to Ft. Benning?

Dave: Sure, Kirk. Happy to do this. The LRC was this excellent opportunity, develop, hone and really understand your own leadership skills. We talk a lot about what it is to be a leader [at Goizueta Business School] and we look at the picture of Robert Goizueta, but we don’t do a lot of hands own leadership training unless it is organic or comes out of your Core teams in the first semester. I saw this as an opportunity to get my hands dirty about how to be a better team member and a better team leader. One of the main points that made me get up early and go out to do this activity was accomplishing some physical challenges and overcoming some physical obstacles in the context of having limited amount of time to complete clear objectives. I think as we get into business roles, we would throw out those ideas because you don’t always know what you’re trying to do, and I would argue that you don’t always know how you’re going to get there even if you know the objective is. And that’s a lot of what we saw in this Course. A bunch of different challenges came at us in a bunch of different ways. I had a good team to put together and we got to trade off who was leading [each obstacle] and it was a lot of fun and I would highly recommend it.

Kirk: So what you’re saying is that people who didn’t make it really missed out?

Dave: Yeah, if anybody had too much fun the night before and missed the bus, I really feel like they would be kicking themselves for even doing an interview.*

Kirk: Yes, yes. I would agree with that statement. But moving on. You talked about people rotating to lead the team. Can you talk about what you learned? Maybe two or three takeaways that you learned while serving as a leader or as a team member.

Dave: Absolutely.

  1. We talk about communication; that’s absolutely critical. What I really took out of this was it’s not only important to communicate your ideas clearly, it’s exceptionally important that you’re understanding your subordinates if you’re leading, or if you’re following, your leader. As you go through these obstacles, you’re under time constraints at every position. You get forced into a place where you think you understand what somebody said, you think you know exactly what they’re talking about, but then when you go to execute on that strategy, all of a sudden, A) You see something that you weren’t able to understand was an obstacle before or B) You’re picking up new information that conflicts with what you’re trying to execute. So as a follower, you need to be able to raise your hand and say, “did we think through this?” Oh yeah, here’s why I said we need to do A, B, or C and B mitigates that OR I didn’t think of that and let’s re-group for 30 seconds to re-think this and move forward. As a leader, not only do you have to communicate clearly, you have to be listening carefully for those cues.
  2. One of the other things that I thought was critical was leadership position. In this case, physical location. But moving forward in a business context, making sure that you’re in a place where you not only see what your team is doing, you also see what is coming up next. You need to be able to take a step back and say, “alright, we’re accomplishing task A, we’re set up well for task B, what happens when we finish B and we get to C?” In one of the obstacles, view was actually limited. Our leader was at the back receiving called out information. As she was processing what we were describing, she was helping us adapt to what we couldn’t see to move forward.
  3. I think one of the other pieces was that as a leader, you don’t always have to be right, but you have to make sure you’re hearing from everybody and you need to be comfortable moving forward with what you think is the best decision. I really enjoyed the idea that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just need to surround yourself with smart people. While we’re here [at GBS], that certainly isn’t a problem. But when you get into these situations when you’re in a time crunch, you have one of two things. You either become more domineering because you want to finish the obstacle or you shrink because you become intimidated by what is happening. I think it’s important to find a balance between those two [frames of mind].

Kirk: Nice! I think those were very helpful takeaways.


While the conversation lasted longer than this blog post, I wanted to provide you with just a little insight into what happens at the LRC and I will most certainly be attending next spring!


*This statement directly applies to the interviewer, who attended Formal the night before.


Check out some videos of us working the course below!