The Silent Leader

“Let the games begin,” the announcer’s voice echoes throughout the inaudible and gloomy gymnasium, sounding like President Snow from the “Hunger Games.” The nice counselors we once knew, showed their darker side, giving us judgmental glares as they walked around us. Facing my left, my teammates were staring back at me waiting to hear my instructions. I’m the leader, able to visit every station and see the toy; however, I’m forced to be mute, with a vocabulary limited to only two words: yes and no.

It was my second day at leadership camp and I had already been learning so much from this wonderful program. But nothing had quite prepared me for the “Tinker Toy.” The point of the game was to construct a toy in under an hour. However, because of the messenger system, everyone being separated from one another and the stressfulness of the situation, made the task seem impossible. I quickly sprung into action, replacing my voice with gestures and emotions. Leaping up and down, using my finger to signify materials our group required and creating signals with my hands to relay some form of communication between my teammates. To strangers I looked like a deranged maniac, nonetheless it wasthe only way I could assert. Hearing other leaders not abiding by the rules, I was both sickened and astonished by how low people would stoop to win the challenge. In my view, I would rather lose and hold on to my morals and values, then to win a game as a charlatan. 

“Time.” The game was over, only it did not seem like a game during that gruesome hour. I felt overwhelmed but was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Before we could leave however, our counselors motioned for my teammates and myself to sit down. Once we did, they slowly started to reveal each team’s toy. As I looked at our team’s dismembered toy and the others completed around us, I was not disappointed with the toy itself nor with my teammates; for they did an amazing job following my silent command. It was rather the feeling that I could have done a better job to lead our team to victory. I personally felt that I should have taken the blame for our failure to complete the toy. As their leader, when others failed, it was my responsibility to step up and take responsibility for it. 

It normally takes a lot to get me to cry. Having been under so much pressure and even with the logic that the game was set to make us fail, I just could not hold back the tears that began to slowly stream down my face. The confident and passionate leader in me broke.

During reflection time, when everyone was answering questions, I began to tune everything out and examined what I had done wrong. I was snapped back into reality when I heard someone call my name, “Nicolette.” I turned towards my counselor who announced “You did a great job. You had a passion about you and you just did not want to give up.  I was quite entertained by your expressive motions when trying to communicate with your team.” My counselor’s analysis of me put a smile on my face.  I was still upset about losing the summation, however the counselor’s compliments about how determined I was ensured that I had at least done something right. I have never felt so connected to a group of people in such a short time as I was with my teammates. In reflection, I feel that is why I took it so hard when our group struggled to complete the activity. I truly did not want to disappoint them. I did not think about how we failed the activity as a group but more how I failed my teammates as their leader. I learned a great lesson that day in that I should not be afraid to fail, even as a leader. Great leaders make mistakes, but it is those that learn and grow from those mistakes that truly become the embodiment of what it means to be a leader. 

Years later I figured out why I was chosen to be the leader that day. As a person who was not known to be shy, I generally relied on my voice as my main form of communication. As a challenge, my counselors purposely placed me in a position that would not allow me to speak. Without having been put in that situation, I would have never learned to connect with my team, work under stressful conditions, or most importantly I would have never found the confidence I need to be a great leader.