Volume 7 Issue 1 Spring-Summer 2020
By Phoebe Mosey
have a terrible fear of heights. A step stool can make my heart rate increase and forget about getting me up on a ladder! I figure if God wanted me to reach the top shelf in the kitchen, I would be taller. You see, I stand a flat five feet tall and am just fine with that! I’m built close to the ground and want to stay close to the ground. So, in January of last year, when my company booked a spring event for employees to experience a ropes course, I immediately checked my vacation time. There was NO WAY I was going. And that was that.
In February I was promoted. I landed a job in management and had a team of coworkers that looked to me for guidance and advice on their job and, at times, in their personal lives. As a team leader in the company, I was expected to participate in the upcoming team building exercise. Also, I didn’t want to seem like a sniveling wimp to my associates. As the spring day loomed ever closer on the calendar, I began to talk to myself with a ‘can-do’ attitude. “You can do this,” I said. “This is a great opportunity to overcome your fears.” Each night I would practice deep breathing exercises, determined not to show my panic, cowardice and insecurity to the group.
When the day arrived, I was feeling pretty good about attempting the course…until we drove up. There were crisscrossed ropes, bridge ropes, logs hanging from ropes, all 40’ in the air. What did they think we were…monkeys? My stomach flipped. The blood drained from my face. I excused myself to the rest room, locked myself in a stall and threw up. After I washed my face and dried my eyes, I took a deep breath and joined the group. My hands were sweating, but my face was calm. We started with a low ropes course that challenged us to communicate in different ways. One exercise did not allow us to talk at all. Everyone in the team shared the different roles of coach, problem solver and cheerleader. My team didn’t have the fastest time, but we all made it through. I was proud of our group’s effort and could see how this experience would benefit us back in the office. Even though I was ready to call it a day, we were only halfway through the activities. We broke for lunch.
Realizing that the high ropes course was coming, I didn’t eat. I wasn’t about to ‘lose my lunch’ in front of my team. We started by climbing up a ‘wall’ made of tied ropes. I kept my eyes closed as much as I could and by the time I got to the top, my hands were rope burned. The instructors were patient and reassuring. They provided different strategies to master the next challenge: the rope bridge. During this exercise, I started to notice the different personality traits emerging from my team. Our gregarious office extrovert was less demonstrative and boisterous. The guy that has (and actually uses) a gym membership didn’t step up to lead even though he is clearly the physically strongest. The ropes course seemed to draw out leadership qualities from the ‘thinkers’ in our group. As we crossed the bridge one by one, we started to really listen to each other. I can testify to the trust it builds as I crossed the expanse. I could have never made it across without the encouragement of my team and the confidence I had in the safety ropes. I was appreciative and respectful of the role each one played in getting me from one side to the other. They knew I was afraid, but no one judged me.
I think I became a better manager that day. The millennials I work with seem to prefer experiential learning over being told how to do something. The ropes course gave me a way to relate to them. I now understand that I can give them enough rope to get rope burn, but not enough to hang themselves. Now, when I give them projects, I trust they will learn through the process and encourage each other as they discover answers and develop their own strengths.
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