The group was half way through the workshop and well into the theatre-based contest. This contest is designed to put participants in touch with the dynamics of communication, situational leadership, dealing with success and failure, and how star performers are recognized and celebrated even when everyone is working in perfect alignment to the team goal.
We had finished the trial rounds which are used to familiarise participants with the exacting rules and discipline of the contest as well as on how to optimise performance to score bonus points. Participants were told that they had 2 minutes to decide on their ‘primary actors’ or designated leaders for the various rounds and levels. The primary actor could not be repeated. There are initial rounds at level one, then at a tougher level 2, and then finally at the extremely difficult level 3. The scoring possibilities as well as the bonus possibilities also increase with each level of difficulty. Typically, each team nominates their primary actors keeping the better actors for the tougher rounds and the best actor in the team for the all important level 3 where the winning and losing finally happens.
There were 4 competing teams. One team had the CEO of the organization – a very energetic, high profile person used to shouting out instructions in the absolute confidence that they would be instantly obeyed. During almost every break, he could be seen shouting at the hotel staff serving the food or beverages for some inadequacy or the other. He was always very visible and clearly and loudly heard.
Level one got over. The teams were more or less on par. Level 2 happened and there were some clear rankings emerging. Even so, all teams were within reaching distance of the top position. The CEO’s team was doing very well at 2nd position with only a marginal difference from the 1st team. Now came the all important Level 3. The first three teams came up and did well. When it came to the CEO’s team, he came up as the primary actor. He misread the script and the team got no score. They had now slipped to the last position.
At this point we processed the learning and then broke for tea. Before tea break I announced that there would be a super challenger round at a much higher score and that the scores of this super round would be added to the existing scores to decide the final winner. The score for this last round was such that even the last team could potentially win the contest. The teams were told that they could nominate anyone as the primary actor, even those who had led the team in the earlier rounds.
The first three teams fielded the actors who had scored full points in the level 2 or level 3 rounds, as their primary actors. They did well. There was a shift in the ranking among them. When it came to the CEOs team, again he came up as the primary actor. Once again, he did not get it right and the team ended up last.
When the final processing was done, I asked teams on what basis they had selected their primary actors for the all important Level 4 super challenger round. All teams other than the CEO’s team said that they had nominated the actor based on past performance and proven competence in this particular area of work. When it came to the CEO’s team there were a few moments of silence. Then the CEO spoke up,
“I volunteered”, he said.
There was no need to process it any further.
To use the metaphor of the journey, often used in the workshop and covered in my article on the “Leadership & Hierarchy – The Journey and the Destination”, once the destination has been decided and the journey starts, leadership must evolve according to who knows that part of the journey best. If the person who decided the destination decides to lead throughout the journey, the journey may not be effective and the team my not reach the destination as planned. An effective leader must know when to step back and enable leadership in the team, based on situational competence, rather than leading directly all the time. A capable, confident leader also does not feel the need to prove that he or she is better than everyone else in the team in every task or situation.