I recently did a fascinating exercise with a room full of CEOs. It was a game, but it really offered great insight into how each person in the room performs as a leader. Here’s the game:
- Five people play. Four are blindfolded.
- The leader gets the blindfolded team to tie four strings to a rubber-band, stretch the rubber-band around a cup of water, and carefully move the cup across the room — without spilling the water.
- The blindfolded team members don’t know what they are supposed to do. The leader has to explain it to them.
- The leader can’t touch the string, the cup, the rubber band or the blindfolded team members. It’s all verbal.
And that’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, right? You wouldn’t believe how challenging it was for some of these business leaders.
One CEO mused afterwards, “As soon as I put the blindfold on, my mind shut down. I thought, ‘I’m only going to do what she tells me.’ I didn’t ask questions. Didn’t try to understand the big picture.”
Isn’t that an interesting insight? Do you have employees that might feel the same way? Maybe they think, “The boss hasn’t explained it to me so I’m just going to sit here and wait for direction.” What can you do as a leader to engage this kind of person?
One best practice that we discovered along the way could be summarized like this: Start with the end in mind and tell the blindfolded team members what you plan to do. The “sighted” leader knows what she is trying to accomplish, but the blind followers don’t know what they are supposed to do. One successful leader gave the blindfolded team members a thumbnail overview of what was going to happen.
One thing that I didn’t see, but it came out in reflection after the exercise was the option to let blindfolded team members experiment before starting. Try a little. See how it feels. Get the hang of it a bit. A good leader might also ask the team if they have any questions before beginning. (Our leader didn’t. She just jumped in and started giving directions.) One CEO said afterwards, “Oh yeah. I could have asked questions. I forgot.”
That’s it. A simple “game” — but one that provided fascinating insight into how we act as leaders and followers. And hopefully it was a “game” that helped a room full of CEOs discover some additional tools for the toolkit.