As some of you loyal followers might remember, last year I wrote a blog-post about a really cool place north of Jerusalem called “Neot Kedumim.” It is an organization that provides leadership training through activities unique to Israel (Check them out here!) For instance, the blog post I wrote last year was about herding sheep (You can read that blog-post here).
To start the day, our group was tasked to use a rope/pulley system to pick up a bucket, put it into a well, and return the bucket to the ground. Four individuals operate the ropes, but are blindfolded. Four additional individuals tell the blindfolded individuals what to do, and one person is the facilitator. The facilitator communicates non-verbally to the messengers, who in turn verbally tell the blindfolded participants what to do. Got it? Good! The point is that everyone has a limitation: the rope-pullers can’t see, the messengers can’t pull, and the facilitator can’t speak. As a team they have all the abilities to complete the task.
After completing the task the Neot Kedumim guide asked the campers to breakdown their experience. What worked? What didn’t? How does this activity relate to real-life experiences? One of the campers raised her hand and said “well the blindfolded people couldn’t really lead because they couldn’t see.”
I was very struck by this comment; the assumption that because someone cannot see means they cannot be a leader. Why is the blind person less likely to be the leader than the person who cannot touch the ropes? Or the person who cannot talk?
When performing the task, the group relegated the blindfolded participants to the position of “follower;” their job was to follow directions. At no point did any of the other participants ask the blindfolded participants for opinions, thoughts, or input. One of the main challenges in this activity is communication. How can you expect to solve communication problems without communicating with fifty percent of the team?!
During the after-activity discussion, one of the participants who was blindfolded told the group that it was really challenging to figure out what their messenger wanted them to do. If the messenger said “up” did that mean to pull the rope up, or to let the bucket go up?
Where was this question DURING the activity? Was it because the group didn’t create an environment where the individual felt comfortable asking the question? Or did the individual not think their question was important?
Neither group is “off the hook.” The person with the limitation needs to know how to advocate for themselves, speak their questions out loud, and express their confusion. The group needs to ask everyone for their opinion and make everyone feel that they are a valued member of the team. The million dollar question is: how do we achieve an environment of openness, one where individuals are seen for their abilities and not for their disabilities?
When this camper made her statement, I raised my hand to respond. I pointed out that the people with the blindfolds did not lack leadership qualities simply because they were blindfolded, just as people who are visually impaired do not lack leadership qualities simply because they cannot see. Rather, the group created an environment in which the blindfolded individuals did not have an opportunity to access the leadership roles.
And the million dollar question? I think the first step is becoming aware that our assumptions are wrong, that our lens is warped. We need to take the focus off the bucket and put it onto the people; because without the people, the bucket won’t move at all.