I’ve been part of half a dozen leadership teams, staffs or boards of directors. As a result, I’ve attended and planned dozens of retreats all about getting to know each other, developing our leadership skills and learning to work as a team. Sometimes the retreats worked, and other times we still had issues. Either way, I still feel I know something about working in a group and bein a leader. I’ve learned compromise, trust, creativity, delegation of tasks and division of labor, planning, communication (especially listening!) and honesty are all extremely important.
I woke up early on a Saturday morning reluctantly. I showered, dressed and picked up Oiyan and headed to the GSA Leadership Summit at UCLA’s Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. A little after arriving and getting some juice and a bite to eat, we followed two staff members Waldo and Kira, out to the challenge course. Some of our challenges were easy and others had us nearly tripping over ourselves. In the toughest challenge, Waldo split our group in two. Four people were allowed to see, but could not speak to or touch the other group. The second group of about a dozen had to have their eyes closed, but we could talk. It was the mutes leading the blinds… and it was not easy to figure out how to communicate to each other. A few bright people in the blind group started asking questions and asking “three claps for yes, one clap for no.” After maybe half an hour the blind group figured out the non-verbal instructions from the mutes and we found ourselves sitting on a log and having completed the following silly tasks:
- We all had one small stuff animal.
- We were all holding on to a rope while sitting on the log.
- Two people had transferred water from one bucket to another.
- One person had blown up an inflatable blue bunny and given it to Kira (a staff member).
- A couple people had hula hoop around them.
- We all sang a song (Happy Birthday to You).
After lunch, we went out to the course again. Rather than play games, we strapped ourselves in harnesses and helmets and did the “Leap of Faith” high ropes course. Three people each served as belayers on the yellow and blue ropes. If they suddenly let all the rope go and stopped belaying, the climber could fall and be seriously injured. Everyone else stood around and offered support for the climber. Kira made sure the climber was properly hooked on and strapped in to his/her harness. And the climber made his/her way up a short ladder propped up against a 30 foot tall telephone pole.
I don’t blame the two who sat out for doing so, since the task was definitely not easy. Climbing up a 30 foot pole is rather easy since you have a latter on the base and then have steps and grips to hold on to as you go up. The final few steps are the most difficult. Everyone stopped there for to take a few deep breaths and mentally prepare themselves to take a step on to the tiny platform at the top of the pole. Once you get two feet firmly planted on the 1-foot in diameter platform, you need to stand up straight and turn 150 degrees in diameter to face the trapeze. Everyone did the turn slowly and did their best to keep their balance.
I was one of the last to go up. I climbed up quickly without looking down and once at the last two steps, I stood with my ankles and lower legs pushed against the pole for support. I said a quick prayer as I slowly stepped on to the pole. Below me, the rest of the group watched and cheered in support. I felt my knees shaking, my heart beating very quickly and would not let myself look down for too long. I looked out at the field beyond us rather than look down as I mae the half turn to face the trapeze. It looked way too far. I didn’t want to jump and then miss it, so I asked Kira to push it closer. And then with my heart beating really quick, my knees shaky, and the rest of the group watching and cheering, I leapt toward the trapeze.
I caught it. They cheered. I let go, “okay, let me down.” Once down, Kira unhooked me and I walked away with the same adrenaline rush I got after parasailing in Mazatlán, climbing to the top of Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán, dancing for a few hours straight the Izcalli ceremony, and doing a little bit of white-water rafting in Kern River.
Afterwards in the debrief, I thanked Monica (president) for planning a rather effective day. It was great to see us work together, and support one another throughout the day. I told the group at the end that my leadership activities was one of the main reasons that initially kept me from dropping out of school. I can’t be a student leader without being a student. The group made me glad to stay.