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Women in Business: What I learned about leadership in the Montana wilderness

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“You don’t like to do things you’re not good at.” Huh? Duh. My sister-in-law was telling me this as I attempted to avoid a golf outing. She isn’t wrong. Call a spade a spade.

“I’m over proving myself.” My bestie from college told me this in response to a leadership immersion experience I was about to embark on.

You may be wondering what these two things have to do with each other, or what they have to do with women in business. We can all benefit from hard truths and self-reflection. Recently, I took time to focus specifically on that. Although I attended a leadership immersion experience, the results were a cold, hard look at myself.

 

The main reason I decided to participate in this experience was that I knew I needed to be reawakened. I don’t know if it was COVID or because I’ve been at the same company almost 20 years or what, but something in me had gone dormant. I’m not sure how else to describe it. Although I love my job and my life, everything was feeling like Groundhog Day. Part of that was COVID and the restrictions for travel, staying home more, and keeping company with smaller groups of people. To be honest, that wasn’t all bad for me. Travel had started to exhaust me. I love being at home. As a “relator,” smaller groups of people are ideal for me. But something was off, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it back on.

 

Here’s what I signed up for:

The LEAD 406 Experience by Allegro takes your team to the wilds of Montana for a multi-day experience in which each person will have an opportunity to lead the group through such challenging missions as land navigation, whitewater rafting, and search and rescue exercises. All our LEAD 406 programs are planned, resourced, and executed by former Special Forces leaders with extensive experience in high-risk environments and the development of elite, high-performance teams. Outdoor activities are facilitated by world-class professional outfitters.

 

Only I did it with a bunch of strangers.

 

Anyone who knows me well understands that I try and extrapolate the bare minimum of what I need to know to do anything. I’m easily bored with details and tend to focus on big ideas. My team is exceptional at taking it from there and filling in the gaps. I lean hard on the experts in the areas of our business that I don’t know well. It makes us stronger as a team and better equipped to deal with the challenges that we face.

 

It will surprise no one that I did not really know what I was getting myself into. And to be fair, the program is designed with quite a bit of ambiguity, which is intended to test your ability to lead through chaos. I had a sinking feeling that I was out of my league as soon as we were leaving the airport to go to our first hotel. The group was much younger than I am, and all were in pretty good shape. I’m a runner. I’m not in bad shape, but I’m also not in great shape. Turns out I was in no shape to physically handle all that was coming my way.

 

That was difficult for me. The experience brought to surface swarms of insecurities I had buried – most of them physical. One sleepless night it hit me hard that I was feeling like the fat, dumb Zabel girl who couldn’t keep up with her brothers. I thought I buried her, but there she was asking me, “What in the world made you think you could do this?” I was so obsessed with my physical discomfort that I couldn’t focus.

 

I was incredibly grateful for the other strong, capable women who were on this adventure with me. We worked together to accomplish some of the tasks that involved more strength than we could muster, like getting stakes in the ground as we put our tents up. I was reminded of the power of women lifting each other up in times of need. Sometimes we need help. If women can be that for each other, it’s a powerful element. I have to believe that this experience was very different for the men.

 

I can’t share much detail of this experience, partly because ambiguity plays a role and confidentiality is an integral part of it.

 

I’m still unpacking and processing this journey. I want to continue to explore the lessons I learned and use them to build stronger teams and better relationships. Below I share some of my initial thoughts that could benefit you if you’re also feeling like you need a reawakening.

 

 

Shake it up

Whether it’s working out, work or home, step out of your comfort zone to do new things. Most days, I run 5 miles or so. Over time, my body barely reacts to that. When put in this new situation, I used muscles I didn’t even know existed. Variety keeps those muscles engaged.

 

My commitment going forward is to consistently challenge myself in new ways physically, mentally and spiritually.

 

Acknowledge gratitude

Although in an experience like this you become fast friends, there’s nothing like a strong team or network that knows you well. I was constantly reminded of how grateful I am for the incredible people I work with every day. I know I’m better at what I do because of them.

 

My commitment is to make sure my team knows how grateful I am for all they do, not only for me but what they do to make each other better.

 

Get uncomfortable

It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone. But pushing yourself out can help you grow and stretch as a person and can breathe new life into you.

 

My commitment is to recognize when I’m getting stale and make sure I’m doing things to push myself to new possibilities.

 

Leverage the “experts”

You can’t possibly be good at all the things. Other people bring new ways of thinking and new approaches to everything we do. Learn from each other and leverage people who have breadth and depth that you don’t have.

 

My commitment is to not only leverage the experts, but to learn from what they are doing and better understand how they do them.

 

Focus on self-care for a clear mind

Taking time to ensure your needs are being met isn’t selfish. It’s necessary to achieve one’s full potential.

 

My commitment is to stop saying “yes” to things that drain my ability to keep moving forward.

 

The moment of lift is the real deal

Melinda Gates’ book “The Moment of Lift” enlightened me to what is most powerful about empowering women. Through this immersion experience, I saw and felt it in a personal way.

 

My commitment is to consider how I can be the “lift” for other women and be open to allowing other women to be that for me.

 

The immersion experience brought me back to life in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Truth be told, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Although I would’ve done some things very differently now that I’ve been through it, it was exactly the right experience for me at exactly the right time.

 

My sister-in-law was right. I don’t like to do things I’m not good at, and I’ll avoid them the best that I can. Participating in this experience, I did lots of things I’m not good at. By doing that, I engaged in some amazing experiences.

 

I don’t need to prove anything to anyone other than myself! I bet that’s true of you, too.

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