That exercise forever changed the way I approached leadership. On the first attempt, I had an idea, and quickly handed the ropes to several of my peers giving them instructions to pull at exactly the same time from different sides of the circle. The ropes caught the bucket just right and they were able to lift it and walk it out of the circle without dripping a drop.
The mentor for that activity did a recap for how well we thought we did as a team working together.
Clearly I thought we did pretty well since we didn't drop any of the water, and we got it completely out of the circle in a very short period of time.
Some of my other peers didn't see it in the same light. After a little prodding from the mentor, a few people opened up about feeling confused, unengaged, and not a part of the process.
While in emergency situations, this approach may work very well, while working as a team in everyday challenges, I learned the importance of communicating, getting buy in, and making sure that others in the group feel heard, and feel that they have an opportunity to truly be a part of the process.
We did the exercise again. This time I first explained to everybody the objective based on how I viewed the solution. They then, by their own initiative, took the ropes the same way, and implemented the same approach. This time, the bucket wobbled, some of the water spilled, and it took about twice as long to get it out of the circle, but it did come out of the circle successfully. And this time everybody felt as if they were part of the process.
Leadership is not all about results. Leadership is about gaining people's trust, that they can follow you to lead them towards an agreeable end.
And that, I will never forget.