I’m not sure if people feel the word leadership has being thrown around so much, and for any context, that at times it loses some meaning. That you become one – a leader – just by reading or repeating the word enough times. Or, that just by doing an activity, or an MBA for that matter, you are one. I wonder how real leaders feel about the use of the word? So, for fun let’s call it the L Word.
Few weeks ago, the MBA class of 2016 took part in a unique experience related to the L Word. It was the St Cyr training, a two-day program done by the French military to develop understanding on what the L Word really is. Based on this experience – and the following is just approximate personal interpretation – it is about understanding your capabilities, trying to identify and leveraging the capabilities of your team and combine them via a complex decision making process to achieve desired objectives. You know, it took me some days to come up with that sentence…
During the event I was in a group of about 8 people, very diverse in all regards (age, interest, physical fit, personality, etc). During the training at St Cyr, there were various collective activities which were aimed to test and understand the L Word. All the activities had the following components: a) required quick thinking for problem solving, b) had a time constraint, c) were open ended for possible solutions, d) required a physical participation (although light), and e) demanded that every member of the group be part of it. For every task, a member of the group was assigned as responsible of the group and completing the task. So, at the end of the exercise the military guide assigned to our group would assess how the responsible team member and the rest of the team behaved according to the L Word.
Theoretically it sounded easy, like what happens when you would dream a situation in your head; uncertain start which ends perfect after coming through a climax period. Nonetheless, once on the spotlight the situation is not so clear-cut.
When it was my turn to be the team responsible, my exercise was to cross a “river” using planks which could be supported on rocks. The main difficulties were the planks had different lengths and could not just be placed as bridges, i.e. at some points we needed to deploy different configurations to go across. The exercise required strength and balance to move/hold the planks. Throughout the exercise, I was mentally doing all the “right” steps, i.e. understanding the objective, highlighting the importance of safety, assessing members for physical tasks and identifying a logical way to get across. Always tapping into the teams knowledge to reach the goal.
In reality, the mental picture suffered modifications. Some members were more eager and active to participate than others, safety was not regarded as important for some (risk had to be role played), and the typical situation of pushing certain ideas under a time constraint. Although we ended crossing the “river”, our technique was a dangerous one. I had accepted to have team members to balance on both sides of the plan, and two of them fell off.
How did I perform in this exercise?
On the positive note, we completed the task, and I felt OK with seeking and getting feedback from the team. The negative one. Although we finished the task I didn’t feel great, safety was overlooked in an attempt to cross over at whatever cost. If I had to do it again, I would have taken a few more minutes to elaborate on the proposed idea to come up with a safer variant. Due to the time constraint I hesitated to stop and figure a new way, and let the momentum continue.
So now you are wondering about the L Word? From all the St Cyr activities various thoughts came to mind:
- How to encourage or have better people in supporting roles, or maybe I am best suited for that supporting role?
- Is there time to “properly” motivate given the time constraint to get results?
- Would the situation change if we include a controversial moral dilemma?
- This is a made up scenario, what about real life?
Many books mention and discuss the traits for good leadership, and surely we all want to believe we’ll be, or are, good ones.
But at the end of the day, and after St Cyr, you must consciously need to be in group situations as to experience, feel and reflect on what it means to you to get to better define it.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
– President John Quincy Adams