I had an interesting interchange with a prospective student yesterday. We ran an event on campus for our Leadership Program – which I currently direct. As part of the visit day, our prospective students had to complete certain initiatives, and my leadership students would make observations about each student.
The chair initiative has to be one of the most telling and revealing initiative for me. I think I can learn more from watching a prospective student interact with their group in this setting without any conversation at all.
There were 7 chairs on one side and 7 chairs on the other side – facing each other. There was an empty chair in the middle. The goal of the initiative was the get the members on one side to the other and vice versa. They can only move “forward.” They could only move into an empty space. They can jump one person, but not two. They couldn’t move backwards.
14 people – who barely know each other, trying to figure out this initiative while they compete for a possible full-tuition scholarship and all the while being observed by my current leadership cohort taking notes on them with a 30 minute time limit – makes for very interesting and fun time.
Without fail, the people in the front just jump right into it. The people in the back disengage. Everyone is talking. People are doing, but no one is thinking. It’s great.
Sometimes the people in the back of the line gather together and use rocks to figure out the pattern of how to move people accordingly. Only one team figured it out yesterday.
The one interchange that I’m talking about had to do with a student that had used rocks to figure out the pattern. First of all, I have no idea where he got the rocks, but he was resourceful and instead of trying to figure it out with 13 other live people, he used the rocks.
Their time passed. Technically, I don’t care if they ever finish the initiative – that’s never the point. I usually, show them the pattern when their time is up. As I showed them the pattern, the student that had used rocks said, “I totally worked it out with rocks. Why wasn’t I able to do it with everyone else?”
He was talking to me so I answered him. I told him simply that, “Rocks don’t talk back.” No one laughed. They just sat there. I wonder if they thought that the scholarship was only awarded if they completed the initiative.
You can have the perfect program or the perfect strategy, but whenever you interact with imperfect people, it’s never easy. It takes leadership in order to make something like that work.
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