Corporate Boardroom in the Woods


I had a very cool experience last week. Imagine this picture. We were at a
“ropes course” in the woods. Ten adults. Five pairs of two: one was blindfolded
and the other was sighted, and their job was to get the blindfolded partner
through a maze of ropes, laid out among the trees. All five in blindfolds
entered at the same time.

Their partners stationed at the start began to direct them. They brushed up
against the ropes, against tress, bumped into each other. Their partners called
out, “Gary, take 5 steps to your left.” “Cheryl, stop! Turn. No, the other way.”
It got louder and louder, and more and more difficult for the partners to hear
who was speaking to them. They hit dead ends, readjusted. After a while one guy
came through the exit gate, loudly high-fiving his partner. Then a second,
third, and fourth pair were finished. Only one woman remained in the maze, and
her (female) partner talked her deliberately through.

With blindfolds off they discussed the difficulty of their disability, the
challenge of trusting, and the frustration the guiders felt at not being able to
see the course well enough to know where the dead ends were. One of the (seven)
men asked the last pair why it had taken them so long. The women both said they
just couldn’t be heard above the other voices. “Hey,” a 6’4″ guy said with a
laugh, “you just gotta yell louder, you know?” The other woman in the group of
ten said, “Wait, why is it that they need to yell louder? When things don’t work
for us why is your answer always that we have to do things your way?
Temperature’s rising a little with the ancient male-female divide appearing.
Before she could go on, the man replied, “Hey if it’s loud and you want to get
your team through you just have to yell louder. If not, well I guess you just
lose, but that’s your choice.”

Ten years ago I probably would have thought something like that, too. He’s
right. She’s wrong. But as facilitator, I asked him: “What is it that you heard
her say?” (Note: I didn’t ask, “Who is right?” or “Is she right or are you?”). I
just wanted to be sure he heard that there was another way to see it, and
I thought he then expressed her point pretty well. Sometimes someone is “right”
and often speed matters, but a lot of times “right” may be much less important
than a whole, or fuller view that allows everyone to have success in the
. And sometimes speed now creates delay later when not everyone is
on board.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection between this exercise in
the woods and a report last weekend in a Detroit paper. It listed the top fifty
executives in compensation in 2006. Guess how many were women? How about one?
Elizabeth Acton, CFO of Comerica. And she was last on the list. Maybe it’s a
jungle, or at least like a ropes course in the forest. And how much wisdom is
being lost in those corporate boardrooms, because the expectation is that the
women need to learn to act like the men?

The ones in charge don’t always have the best way, and knowing that helps you

Lead with your best self,