Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall… Is There A Leader Within?

By Jim Grout

As the wicked queen in Snow White discovered, looking in a mirror can be a reassuring or unsettling experience—it depends on what you hope to see.

We all seek to improve ourselves throughout our lives, to be a better person in ways both large and small.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes not.  What makes the difference between success and failure?  Is it us? Is it the environment?  A bit of both?

Leave Your Comfort Zone

The first step in discovering our potential to change involves stepping away from the familiar, leaving our comfort zone and having an experience that is inconsistent with our existing self-perception, because it is unlike anything we’ve ever done before.  Going through the motions each day, it’s natural to believe we know exactly who we are and what we can and cannot do. But what happens when we find ourselves in a new environment, one that challenges us to see ourselves, our colleagues, in a different light?

At High 5, our motto is Connect. Empower. Lead…Be the Example.  Over the years, we have found that when people participate in an adventure-based team experience,  everything–including change–is possible, and the foundation of that change is connection, empowerment, and leadership by example.  The Boston Bruins learned this insight when the team came to work with our trainers on team development activities, then went on to win the Stanley Cup—the last time they won that coveted trophy.  As the team psychologist put it, “High 5 builds better people, who become better hockey players.”  Connecting with others and understanding how we see and are seen in our relationships, empowering ourselves and others to acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses, and accepting the challenge of being both leader and follower, as needed, is the example set by a nimble and high functioning team, whether it be in the world of sports, education or business.

Be In The Moment & Participate Fully

Here’s a secret we’ve learned over decades as adventure educators: Taking people out of the normal context of their lives allows them to see themselves and others in a new light and to change in response to what they’ve learned.  The ability to change, whether for an individual or a group, depends less on openness to the prospect of change–even if it is being forced upon us–than on a willingness to participate in a new experience and be open to outcomes.

Adventure learning activities are different from ‘real-life’—unlike anything familiar or routine. That difference elicits a unique combination of heightened attention and unguarded response, at the same time opening our thought processes and energizing our learning.  That is in contrast to provoking defensive or manipulative behavior—the sort of reaction we see all too often when confronted with the prospect of change.  The work we do centers on creating trust and establishing behavioral norms that teams can agree upon.  In this climate, participation is reinforced and change is less daunting and more achievable.

Embrace the Adventure 

Adventure learning, which is activity-based, deliberately places us in unfamiliar territory, whether in classroom, land-based, or challenge course activities.  We don’t use our standard skill set in, say, solving the collaboration problems presented by our Blocked Perspective classroom activity, or belaying a colleague crossing the ‘Islands in the Sky’ element on our challenge course.  Facing those unfamiliar obstacles, we have to develop new skills and discover new strengths—both as individuals and as a group. We have to connect with one another.

And in meeting those challenges, we discover a new sense of self and discover new strengths in others.  We empower ourselves and others to work together to succeed. Our self-awareness has changed.  And our awareness of others has changed, too, not because of a conscious effort to change or because we’ve been told to, but simply because we participated willingly in a learning activity because we were part of a team that needed new skills to succeed.

You might think that change like that, encountered in an artificial environment, wouldn’t last over time, but in fact, it does.  And, it empowers us to see ourselves and others in a new light, creating new opportunities to lead and set new examples for meeting fresh challenges in our work and in our daily lives.

When was the last time you took a look in the mirror and left your comfort zone?  Today is a good day to get started.  If you need some help inspiring participation on your team, then click here to read the success stories of others…