After it rained, the field became muddy. Our team was asked to build a bridge to go across a small river and I was asked to be the executive, the co-leader. As the executive, I had to stay between the team leader and the team members to make sure that we could achieve the goal safely and quickly. At the beginning of the seminar, a military officer taught us how to tie the clove hitch to make the x-bridge. It was the first time that I learned the knot and I managed it quickly. My team has 12 and then was divided to 3 groups assigned directly by the leader and me. When we began to make x- piers, 2 groups just came to me at the same time complaining that they didn’t know how to tie the clove hitch. When 6 people came to me at the same time, and under the leader’s pressure, I was a little confused. After reassigning groups, I was in charge of checking crosses to make sure that they were solid. I did a very good job until the third cross fell into the river. Later on, I found that most of girls in our team didn’t contribute a lot to build the bridge. Faced to so many problems and as a co-leader, I found it was the most challenging experience for me during the seminar.
The first mistake that I made was because of confirmation bias. After learning how to tie the clove hitch, I thought it was so easy for me so that it was also easy to others in our team. I only asked some team members who seemed strong, and they answered me that it was easy to them as well. So I was sure at that time that everybody could tie the knot. However, it was not the case at all. Because I didn’t forecast that the clove hitch could be a problem, I divided people into different groups only randomly, but not by ability. The result was that two groups of people didn’t know how to make crosses by tying the clove hitch. I should not only think arbitrarily that it was easy to everybody and see what I wanted to see. I should have used a little time at the beginning of the mission to ask every team member whether they already understood the way completely. If someone didn’t know, I should have put someone who knew the knot in the group to teach the one who didn’t know. In the future, I have to wait a little to search and get more information from more people before making a decision. I have to forget my initial ideas when searching information so that I can make decision more objectively and correctly.
The second mistake I made was because of overconfidence. When my team put the second cross checked by me into the river and it was very sturdy to support a log, I was happy that my way of checking worked very well. But the third log didn’t fit anymore as the point of the river was deeper, and it fell down on the river at last. When I saw the failure, I understood that the first two logs worked didn’t mean that the third would work as well. I should have checked the third log as I had never succeeded. I should have considered different conditions and always be modest. It’s written in the organizational behavior course that the overconfidence is the mother of all bias, so it’s also the mother of most failures. In the future, I should never be overconfident even after a lot of success, because conditions are always changing, and I will never know what I will meet in the future. I should always be prudent as if I have never succeeded.
The third concept that I have seen in the experience is the equity theory. As it rained just before the exercise, the field was very muddy. It was normal that some people preferred to be clean so that they didn’t like to work on such a muddy field. But the longer the bridge was, the more people went on the bridge to build the bridge, and the fewer people available on the field to build and check crosses. As many people were on the bridge, fewer people were on the field. I needed them to help me to build and check crosses. At the beginning, they were reluctant to work because they didn’t want to make themselves dirty. But I worked really hard and I even almost lay on the muddy field to make sure that every cross was sturdy enough. When they saw me with a lot of mud on my shoes and clothes, they began to do the same thing. As the rewards were the same to everyone, when I increased my contribution, others increased their contributions as well. As a leader, I shouldn’t make others think that I didn’t work but just waited for the rewards. It was a good lesson to teach me that I should work with others sometimes, especially in a very bad condition, to encourage others, so that others will increase their contributions to make sure that the project goes well.
When someone asks me what I have learned from the seminar in the French Army, I will tell him or her that I have learned how to be a good leader in the future.
First of all, I have learned three of the most important things that a leader should do: organize, communicate and forecast. Thanks to the development of technology, the world changes very quickly and tremendously, and companies meet crisis more often than before. When facing to a crisis in the business world, a leader should be calm first, assign right people to do right things, communicate information inside and outside clearly and forecast what will arrive the next day. When we were building x-bridge during the seminar, we made a mistake on organization at the beginning. But after we had optimized our organization, right people doing the right things, everything went well. Then the leader and the executive conveyed information correctly to others and forecast the possible difficulties that might arrived, so our team successfully went across the largest part of the river at a high speed. That can be applied in the corporate world. Organizing, communicating and forecasting, a leader who manages the skills can lead a team to achieve a goal quickly and safely in a crisis.
Secondly, I have understood that a good leader should know how to filter information and choose the best solution among tons of ideas to coordinate different departments in the corporate world. Nowadays, everyone is talking about the “big data”, which means that the data is booming now. Even with the help of computers, leaders still receive lots of new information every minute. To survive in such a world filled with data, leaders should know the big picture, using limited time to select and filter information and then coordinate with different parts in companies. In the crisis management exercise, a piece of information arrived every five to ten minutes, and 12 people worked on different subjects to get the best solution to receive people who had just experienced an earthquake. If the leader didn’t know how to pick the most important information or to coordinate the work of the team, our team couldn’t have done the exercise. So if the leader knows how to filter information, choose the best solution and coordinate different departments, companies and organizations will live better in a world surrounded by tons of information.
Thirdly, a leader has to be brave when facing a “dangerous” situation. Everyone knows that the more the risk is, the more the return is. In today’s corporate world, small fearless companies can easily beat huge companies thanks to high technology and Internet. Especially for traditional companies, if they don’t change to adapt to the fast-changing world, they will fail. If a leader always worries that changes may fail the companies, the other courageous companies will “kill” those old companies. In the jumping exercise, we had to jump from a higher side to a lower side, which was still 5 meters high but seemed very dangerous. It was unique experience and I jumped without hesitation. But some people stayed on one side, looked down and couldn’t move anymore. I knew clearly that the more he or she waited and thought, the more he or she was scared, and the less the person would jump. So after knowing where and how to go further, the leader should be doughty and act immediately in a world that everything changes fast.
Last but not least, learning by doing is the best way to learn. After the seminar, I have improved my leadership, learned from others and known what I have to improve. It’s one of the best experience during the MBA at HEC.