I was in Joshua Tree attending a self improvement retreat of sorts and part of a group of about 50. It was a diverse group with athletic kids in their late teens to an elderly, overweight woman with a limp in her 70's. Our task was simple, we had to go on a hike while carrying 50+ bricks and enough water for the group (four 5 gallon jugs).
Living in Boulder I was like, "really we're going on a hike and this is supposed to be a challenge, I'll carry the 50 bricks by myself." However, I knew this would be a daunting task for many as they were "average Americans."
This challenge was not designed to be a team building exercise. Ultimately the task was to teach you something about yourself, and it did. When I went on this retreat, I was at a point in my life where I was there for me, screw everyone else. I approached the entire week that way. I wasn't there to teach, I wasn't there to guide, for once in my life, I was in it for me and no one else. No, this isn't selfish, it was me time, focusing on improving myself. Little did I know I would emerge a true leader by the end of this week.
How NOT to be a leader
This was day 2 of the 5 days and it was apparent several of our 50 in the group had decided they were "Leaders" and were going to "guide" the group. These leaders each had their own idea of how things should be done and there wasn't much changing their opinions because they were right and everyone else should learn from them. It was amusing to watch 6 or 7 people with this same attitude. For once I just sat back and giggled, after all I wasn't there for them.
A small caveat: over the course of the week the leaders continued with the same attitude and if you didn't listen to them they would simply do it themselves. I noticed this very quickly and took to calling them the "slaves" because you could essentially get them to do anything for you by simply not cooperating with them. On a different day we had a task and someone was asking me what I think we should do (more on why they were asking me to follow) and I said, "Well, let the slaves do it." They looked at me puzzled, then I said the names of several of our slave/leaders and they simply burst into laughter because they understood what I meant and wholly agreed with my assessment.
Anyway, back to our "strategy session" before the hike started. One thing that was agreed upon was that it was apparent there were several of us in good shape and could easily do the hike, even with 50lbs of brink in a backpack. They asked me if I'd carry that weight and I said "sure" grabbed my bag and waited for the bickering...I mean strategy session...to end. I had my task and I get shit done, I wasn't going to be a part of a meaningless bickerfest.
Lesson 1: People need help but most won't ask for it...so be patient.
Finally we get going...jeez that took forever, it's walking people. During one point there was a small scramble up a steep section and this one woman was very fit, but super skinny and she was literally trying to carry 2 bricks up the incline and kept stumbling. I offered to take the bricks and she refused.
If you couldn't tell by now, most of this group was getting on my nerves. I really was getting sick of seeing her stumble repeatedly so I simply took the bricks from her and walked up and she followed. When we got to the top one of the coordinators of the retreat said to me, "By taking those bricks from her you have deprived her of an experience, think about how your actions have affected someone else." Oh wow, I'm a ass. As I said the point of the exercise was to learn about you, and I just learned I'd been a ass my whole life because it wasn't as if this was the first time I was impatient. I was acting just like our slave/leaders.
End of day, exercise is over and we all had to say something we learned. While I was humbled by my own little lesson, I was still seething pissed at this group of idiots. Pride was their downfall and they all agreed. The lesson many took away was that it's OK to ask for help. Most stumbled and failed and were too proud to ask anyone for help, they all thought they could go it alone and the result was many of our group didn't finish the hike.
This is the lesson the skinny woman said she learned too. She brought up the instance where I took the bricks and said, "I was too stubborn to admit I needed help and my stubbornness delayed our group" and she actually thanked me for taking charge!
Does being a leader mean taking charge? No no no. We'll get there but that was NOT the lesson.
Lesson 2: "Do or do not, there is no try" Yoda
I reminded myself I was there for me, not these people and slept it off that night. Then a funny thing started happening that I didn't notice until the conclusion of the retreat. During our exercises over the next several days many people approached me and asked for my opinion on what we should do.
Some of our leader/slaves even approached me and said, "Well what do you think?" My immediate response in my head all the time was, "Why are you asking me, form your own damn opinions?"
What was going on? Well, on the first day we attended a lecture and the speaker talked about "getting shit done." I'm a huge fan of this. He employs the method, "Ready, Fire, Aim." Yes, I said that right. The point is too many people deliberate and think things though then try to execute a plan which falls apart 2 minutes into execution. Just like Mike Tyson says, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
This isn't to say we shouldn't form plans, but simply that a lot of the time you don't know what you're getting into until you're into it. Programming can be a lot like this; you start off with a general idea of what you're doing, then it expands, changes, etc. It's why programmers are apt to just...start programming, and then see where it takes them because they already know you're going to ask them to make a thousand changes. Most full functioning programs are strung together on a series of very delicate codes that barely come off as a system...eg Facebook.
Over the course of the next several days while the slave/leaders argued and wasted time, I often just started doing. Some of them took offense to this and looked at me incredulously asking, "What are you doing, we didn't say that was our plan," and by this point several others backed me up without my request saying, "He's done more in the time you argued than you have done all day."
All of a sudden, all these people thought I had my shit together and had it all figured out. Well, I don't know everything and hardly have it toether, but I'm a big fan of doing and it's where I developed one of my most paradoxical motto's: I just make it up as I go along. If the Law of Attraction exists, this is a perfect example.
There are natural born leaders, but they aren't what many think. They don't start with the idea they will lead people and coerce them into following. They are people with direction and purpose. They are the Philosopher Kings.