March 3, 2024

Extreme Leadership Training Costs $100K, and Firms Want It for Workers

  • Businesses are paying for extreme leadership trainings, including “Top Gun”-style flight simulations, The New York Times reported.
  • These workplace exercises can run organizations as much as $100,000 per session.
  • They also signal a swing towards a more hands-on leadership style.

Out with trust falls and mini golf, and in with piloting fighter jets and changing tires: A slew of companies are changing the tone of leadership trainings and team-building exercises to mimic an adrenaline-packed action blockbuster.

Executives at corporations like Nike, Pepsi, and Bank of America have all taken part in what can be considered more extreme team-building and leadership workshops that cost as much as $100,000 per session, The New York Times reported. 

This type of activity emphasizes a hands-on and calm-under-pressure style leadership, which could indicate a reversal from the empathy and emotional intelligence prioritized by CEOS in the wake of the pandemic.

“Leaders are trying to regain a sense of control they feel they’ve lost over the last few years,” Cali Williams Yost, a workplace strategist, told the Times. “They’re searching to reassert control and power in a way that feels familiar.”

Recently we’ve seen powerful tech figures like Mark Zuckerberg attempt to reinvent themselves in the vein of a combat-loving, stoic leader, while Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO, said he’s “been waiting for these physical battles in tech.”

Plus, as teams return to office, leaders are finding it’s necessary to bring workers together after prolonged isolation.

“Unique and challenging activities can help bridge the gaps that hybrid and remote work cause,” Kobi Regev, CEO of management-training company The Squadron, told Insider over email.

For Squadron, which has worked with companies like IBM, Dell, and Nestle, that means sessions that model the training conducted by the Israeli Air Force.

Its programs train individuals to go through a series of F-35 flight simulations and debriefings, and through this loop of action and feedback, seek to strengthen team performance.

“There are a lot of similarities between combat aviation and the business world,” Regev said. “You need to understand your environment, learn how it works, make mistakes, overcome those mistakes, and work as a team — all while moving at a fast pace.”

Workshops begin at $390 a person, and prices vary based on duration, group size, and customer needs, a spokesperson for the Squadron told Insider. 

Afterburner, another company that provides team-building activities, facilitates competitions, allowing workers to duke it out in a fighter pilot simulations. 

One of the training courses, called the “Top Gun Experience,” begins at $10,000 for smaller teams and can cost as much as $100,000 for a bigger group, the Times reported. 

The company is composed of a range of former and current combat officers, and seeks to help corporate teams “execute with the same precision and accuracy as elite military aviators and special operations teams,” according to its website

Not all of the activities are as rooted in military experiences: Over The Wall Thinking, a service founded by Andy Papathanassiou, provides training exercises for organizations that simulate a NASCAR pit stop, or the period when old tires are exchanged for new ones during NASCAR races.

Papathanassiou, who is a former NASCAR pit crew coach, instructs groups through the process, which requires everyone to remain precise and calm under pressure.

The sessions start at $10,000, with cost depending on group size, time spent training, and location.

“NASCAR pit stops are a very simple process that must be performed in a specific order,” Papathanassiou told Insider over email. “This simple, unalterable process serves as an analogy for everything from sales goals and product development cycles in business, to personal time management and creating a healthy lifestyle.” 

So if you were thinking of planning a virtual happier — maybe find a race car to work on instead.

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