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Monday 4 May 2015

There are no superheroes

But then there are no tasks that a cross-functional team, with proper coordination and a good leader, can’t successfully execute. 

As a part of the MBA program at HEC, we have to participate in a two-day off-campus leadership seminar at St Cyr military academy. It is a well-known fact that the military is unparalleled in its processes and logistics. However, before embarking on the 2 day sojourn at St Cyr, it was a question in everyone’s mind regarding if it was going to be a commando training or a lecture on leadership skills at the academy. It was none. 

Days at the academy start at 0500 hours and continue till the evening – packed with exercises and simulated scenarios that army faces on a regular basis. Albeit, some activities required physical strength, the focus was on fostering clarity in thoughts, communication and execution, and in-turn leadership. Based on the speed of execution, each group had an opportunity to do 10-15 tasks. The activities included saving a snake-bite victim from another side of the lake, to finding an injured colleague in the wild and aid air rescue by taking the victim to a safe flat land area. Obviously, no one was bit by a snake, and the injured friend was a cloth filled dummy saved by an imaginary helicopter, but the rest of the activity was done in near real scenarios. 

The tasks were similar to nothing that we have done in our professional lives, and the team had members of which most of them hadn't worked together extensively in the past. As a result, we were unsuccessful in executing first 2 time-bound high-stress tasks. From the third activity onward, our mentor, the representative from the army, appointed one leader and suggested some ways and methodologies for a better team performance even on tasks on which no team member has any experience, whatsoever. We saw an exponential improvement in team performance with each additional task, as the next leader utilized the best practices and learned from the mistakes of the previous leaders. 

For each task, we had to follow the concept of ‘leaving no man/woman behind.’ Implying, the task is not complete if a prodigy from your team walks on the rope and reaches the other side, you can use such a talent to your advantage, but the task is only complete when the whole team crosses the said water body in allocated time. The second best thing about these tasks was the debrief session post the task. It was the best learning experience, where your peers provide you feedback, as well as, you also introspect that if we start from scratch, what can be done differently. 

My team building a 'X bridge' to cross a small river

To be a good leader, you need to be able to think swiftly, motivate intrinsically and delegate appropriately. Secondly, for problems of unknown nature, sometimes the leader needs to step out from the execution zone, and focus on adapting/making decisions and guiding his specialized teams.

There's a simple formula for success as a leader. Know the tasks you can delegate, find the right person, delegate the tasks to him / her, move upwards towards more challenging tasks, repeat. Once you master this formula, you will see yourself, your team and your organisation climbing the ladder of success.

Certainly, as our senior batch mentioned, St Cyr. is one of the most memorable events of this MBA journey. It journey not only provides a great outlet to practically apply concepts learned behind the classroom doors, but also helps in trying out some adventure activities which you will most probably never come across in the day-to-day life.

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