As I write this article, I have a major rope burn on my fingers.
It reminds me to TRUST. It teaches me that I didn’t TRUST – enough.
You see, I didn’t delegate when I had a team at my fingertips. I held on too tight and learned an unexpected leadership lesson.
The lesson came during the “Leap of Faith” activity at a Ropes Course. In this activity the climber climbs to a platform located 40-feet up in a tree; then the climber leaps to the team members below who work together to bear the weight and control the speed of the fall.
It surprised me that, although I have a fear of heights, it was not the leaping part that presented a problem for me. It was in the catching part that I invited a major rope burn.
It happened in an instant. We had 10 team members who had been trained to work together on two safety ropes. Each team member had two eyes on the climber, two hands on the rope and two feet on the ground. And each team member responded enthusiastically as the climber initiated the sequence from the top of the 40-foot platform:
The climber looked down at us, testing everyone’s confidence as she asked, “White rope ready?”
Fueled by adrenalin, the team yelled back: “Ready!”
The climber continued, checking in with the team members at the end of the second safety rope, “Green rope ready?”
The team responded, “Ready!”
The climber declared, “Trusting.”
And with steady attention directed toward the climber the team offered a confident response, “Trust on.”
And the climber leapt from the tree.
On this particular occasion, I was in the front position on the rope and was surprised at how much weight I was holding. I realized later that this was a choice that I had unconsciously made.
I had no evidence to suggest that the team wouldn’t pull its weight – in fact, I had evidence to the contrary. With 8 other “trust falls” in our experience, the team was practiced, confident and ready. As a team, we had safely lowered the climber every single time – including my own leap!
So why did I falter?
The wind whispered to me, “TRUST and let go,” and yet I held on – really tightly – and before I knew it, the rope was slowly and inevitably slipping through my fingers. Ten seconds later, two of my fingers were raw with pain.
The climber was safely on the ground, rejoicing with the team as I looked at my fingers in disbelief. Thank goodness that the team was oblivious to my pain. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what had happened and once I did realize what had happened, it was a little embarrassing!
One of the facilitators noticed my “burn moment” and came to check in with me. After talking to me for a moment, she gently offered that I might need to “step back.”
In a moment of resignation, I placed myself in the back position on the rope – it is the position that places the rope in and out of a bucket. The sting of it all kept reminding me to “TRUST and let go.”
I’ve got to say that it was exhilarating to watch from the back position! The team expertly lowered each climber to the ground reinforcing a strong bond of TRUST. I was so proud to be a part of that team! And it was thrilling for me to discover that I didn’t need to bear the weight by myself!
As leaders, we have a choice about how much weight we will bear and how much we will share.
And I’m here to remind you that you are not alone – unless you choose to be.
Do you ever feel like you are the only one holding the rope?
Where are you gripping too tight, right now?
Where can you share some of the weight, right now?
Where do you need to take a step back, right now?
Are there resources, strengths and/or people around you waiting for your TRUST, right now?
TRUST doesn’t just happen – it requires preparation and time (see the TRUST Formula below). Sometimes it requires taking a step back.
Take a leap of faith and allow others to help. It really is thrilling to TRUST.
Here are some TRUST tips that I learned while participating in the Ropes Course:
T – Teach the team how to succeed.
Instruct the team – in the most motivational and high involvement way possible. In order to be successful, the team members need to understand why, what, how, who and when. If it’s not possible to physically practice what you are teaching, make sure it is written down. Create and/or revise a job and or committee description, always leaving space for individual strengths and goals.
R – Rally the troops.
As leaders, it is important to recognize our responsibility to influence the energy of those we lead. Every interaction, e-mail and meeting offers an opportunity to coach, encourage and motivate. Success is fueled through positive expectation. When words aren’t enough, bring in other elements – create a mood with music, humor, food, a short video clip and/or new formats.
U – Utilize feedback.
How are the team members doing? Are they under stress? Celebrating an achievement? Check in. One of the most important things we can do as leaders is slow down long enough to listen to the wisdom around us. It has been said that the four most important questions include:
How are you doing?
What are you thinking?
What are you feeling?
How can I help?
Incorporate the four questions and listen – really listen to the answers.
S – Set an example.
As leaders, we are role models for the team. Act and speak with intention. Encourage leadership at all levels – every team member is critical – from bucket to tree – no title necessary. To teach communication – communicate. To teach delegation – delegate. To teach adaptability – change. If we hold on too tight – people notice that too. If we learn from it – they can too.
T –TRUST the team.
If you’ve been holding on too tight, recognize the team around you. I promise they are there. Invite them to leap with you and then believe they can do it. Step back and allow them to do what they have been trained and empowered to do – by you.
© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on motivational programs.