Be Present Where You Are

I know myself pretty well. I have been through pretty much every behavioral profile known to man. I am aware of my strengths and seek to avoid situations that magnify my weaknesses. As I look back on my career, I have to admit that was not always the case.

In the mid 1990's I attended CCL - The Center for Creative Leadership. Though I haven't looked recently, at that time it was ranked as the top leadership training program worldwide. To say it was intense would be an understatement. The following story illustrates the learning process that lead me to understand the power of knowing our natural tendencies and the importance of knowing when not to lead.

Though we completed and analyzed multiple behavioral profiles, and even spent several hours with a clinical psychologist diving deep into what those profiles said, nothing had. A greater impact on me than the team survival scenario we completed on day two.

We were put in teams of 6 people and given a scenario to work our way through. In addition, we were reminded that the entire exercise was video taped. (i really wish that part of the instruction had resonated more with me). In addition, we were informed that 6 other rooms were going through the same scenario and we would be graded against their scores as well as our own ability to survive.

The scenario had us white water rafting on a week long trip with no expectation from family or friends for our early return. The challenge came when it began to rain which caused the water level to rise and the rapids to become...well, more rapid. In the scenario our raft overturns and we are left with several injured teammates. We are able to save the raft and several other items (15 in all) but lost the first aid kit. Our goal was to determine first, wether to stay and wait for help or get back in the raft with injured teammates and seek to stay on course, knowing no one expected us back for a week and would therefore not come looking for us. This was pre-cell phone time, so there was no option of calling for help. In addition, we had to rate the 15 items we recovered in order of importance. Add to that the element of urgency, as this was a timed activity. Sounds like a typical day at work doesn't it?

The first decision we had to make was whether to stay or go. Luckily, I had been through a similar plane crash scenario where I had opted to go for help and died. So over the next two hours, and sometimes through sheer force, I convinced my team that we had to stay. Of course as the self appointed leader, I also determined for my team the priority order of the remaining supplies. The exercise was debriefed with all of the other teams in the same room. I couldn't wait to see how "we" did. I almost felt guilty. Having been through a similar scenario and "Knowing" the right answers almost seemed like cheating.

By now you may have guessed it, but we were the only team that died. The embarrassment was an eye opener, but not nearly as revealing as the video of me ram rodding my beliefs into my teammates. Though my motive was right - our survival, my actions were so wrong. Here is what that scenario taught me:

  1. The power of seeking first to understand and not moving forward on preconceived notions.
  2. The realization that leading is not always having the right answer, but more often listening to those who do.
  3. The understanding that every teammate matters and has value.
  4. The wisdom that he who claims him or herself leader...rarely is.
  5. The difference in leadership and dictatorship

I challenge you to retake part in a similar scenario with your core team. If you do, remember that the power is less in the activity and more in the debrief.

Wishing you impactful leadership,