During our first residency of the Weekend Executive MBA program, we had the opportunity to participate in what is called the Integrative Leadership Experience (ILE) to connect with our newly formed teams across our cohort. Most teams have six or five members. One experience during the all-day ILE training stands out. My team of six was paired with another team of six, making a dozen of us. We participated in a variety of team-building exercises all day, and this was our last one. The challenge was to climb up a 30-foot pole onto a wireline that connected in a Y-shape to two other poles, with your counterpart on the adjacent pole, and the need to both make it to the end of the “y”. It was called the high “y”. This exercise could only be done in pairs, with the rest of your team providing support on the ground by holding the support ropes. I had a Green Beret on my team, and the other team had someone from the military as well. The Green Beret and another teammate volunteered to go first. Watching them climb and try to walk the wireline made everyone’s heart skip a bit. It did not look easy at all.
Next, another two volunteered, and one of them was the military from the other team. The military guy made it to the center with moderate difficulty, but his counterpart, despite mustering up significant courage dropped off the wireline moments after climbing up. After we lowered him to the ground, the guide that was with us asked if someone else would volunteer since the military guy was still up at the center. Barely thinking, and with my heart racing, I said, I would go. Up I went, not certain how this would turn out.
Very carefully, I climbed the wooden pole, and with every step I took, I could feel the muscles in my chest tighten. As I got higher and looked down, I thought to myself, “This is insane. Whoever thought of this exercise must be crazy.” Eventually, 30 feet above the ground and taking my first step on the wireline, I felt a type of fear I had never felt as a grown man. I thought if I fell, I was going to meet my maker (even with the harness on my back, and my other teammates holding the rope). It was nerve-racking. However, at that moment, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I concluded there were two possible outcomes: (1) give up and never really know what was possible, or (2) overcome my fears and push forward.
For what felt like an eternity, I debated what I would do in my head. And then I had a moment of self-discovery. This is what I called the “tipping point”—that point when you need to make a choice given the external and internal forces at play. Whatever decisions you make in your tipping points can make a world of difference in your outcomes in life.
Anyways, despite my whole self saying “no,” I resolved in my heart that I would do this, and slowly but surely, I made my way to the center, shaking like a jellyfish. As I progressed, I kept saying to myself, “I can do this.”
Long story short, I got to the center, and my military teammate and I successfully completed the second leg of the challenge. The cheers and delight from the others were indescribable.
Subsequently, every single one of us completed the exercise including the team member who had given up initially. Drawing from my experience, and together with my other teammates who already completed the exercise, we were able to inspire and coach others through the tipping points, helping them to stay positive despite the odds.
As we debriefed later following the experience, a few lessons jumped out that we all shared.
- It takes teamwork to accomplish great things.
- Life is challenging, but when you have a cheerleader on your team or someone who believes in you despite your flaws or fears, you can do what seems impossible.
- As leaders, give people second chances when they fail or make genuine mistakes (don’t just give up on them) and provide them with the necessary resources and support. Show them what is possible and let them know that they have what it takes to do better.
- Fear is only a temporary constraint. You don’t know what you can do or are capable of until you try.
No matter where you are on your journey, some risks are worth taking. This Fuqua MBA is one of them, even though I had debated whether it made sense to do it now after I opted not to several years ago when I did my other graduate programs. Now, I don’t regret it despite juggling multiple other balls, including family and work. Although I am still in the middle of the program, some of the lessons and insights I have gained have already amplified and transformed my thinking and perspectives, as I suspect it has for many others in my cohort. So, I cannot wait to see where this transformational journey takes us. But this one thing is for sure, we are all still writing our stories. What is your story?