Leadership is a Choice

Last week, I found myself at The Polar Star Inn, one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts located at 11,500 feet on the side of Mt. New York in the Rocky Mountains. No central heat, no running water, no indoor plumbing. I was invited to participate in the adVentures Academy, an organization I knew nothing about. I was with 20 other people. I did not know 19 of them. And I shared a room with two of them.

We gathered outside on Thursday morning for our Avalanche Level 1 training. We received some training on how to use the equipment, and we were told that on average, people trapped under an avalanche live for 5 minutes. The instructors divided us into three groups. They told us they were going to bury seven probes (simulating people trapped under avalanche snow) and that each team would get a point for each probe they found.

Working as competitors, it took us 18 minutes to find all seven probes, thereby “killing” some of those poor souls/probes trapped under the snow. In the debrief, we agreed that we needed to work collaboratively vs. competitively, that we needed to divide up the site into three parts and that we needed an uber-leader to coordinate between the groups.

Someone suggested me as the uber-leader.

I didn’t acknowledge the request. I didn’t accept or fully own the responsibility.

Instead, I listened to my inner critical voice that was going off on themes such as: “If they really wanted you to do it, all of them would have been begging you” or “Who do you think you are?” or “There goes your need to control again — CHARACTER DEFECT!!”

So I kinda sorta acted in that role during our second experience, but I didn’t own it.

It took us 13 minutes to find all 7 probes.

Better, clearly. But we decided to do it again because leaving some people/probes to die was unacceptable to us.

When the talk of needing an uber-leader came up again, I admitted that I had fucked up previously and that I was willing to do that role if the group still wanted me to do so.

The best response: “The best person for the job is someone who has fucked it up before and learned from that experience.”

The third time, I OWNED being the leader. I listened to everyone’s ideas on how to coordinate and then I announced the plan. And I enforced adherence to it.

And we found all of the probes in 5 minutes.

What I learned is that where a vacuum of leadership exists and I assess that I can step in and fill it, I need to jump in solidly with both feet and lead — providing direction, clarity and adherence to decisions. I may never be asked directly to lead in the world; however, when I see that groups milling about directionless and I see a good direction, I’m jumping in. Both feet. No hesitation. And I’m gonna OWN it.