The Eternal Journey

The Eternal Journey

A funny adventure of Leadership

Sometimes, a surprise can be quite a surprise itself. We, the Group Management Cadre batch of 2011 at Mahindra had this all recently. What was expected to be a morose mid-year review turned out to be an excellent outing at an exquisite location atop a plateau overlooking the Konkan. All of us, all geared up, though with weary spirits after 4 months of onslaught in our respective roles, started from Mumbai on a sunny afternoon on 24th November this year. We were told that it will be an outbound leadership training program for two days at a place called Garudmaachi. That at least lightened our spirits a little. This was compensated by an even more tiresome travel, thanks to that someone who slapped Sharad Pawar, there were roadblocks here and there which delayed our travel.

When we reached the destination, it was pitch dark (except for the dim lights in the so-called resort), 8 in the night, and all of us were directed to our respective tents where we would spend the remaining two days. And then, there came a heavy blow on a dead fox. We were asked to assemble in the next 15 minutes for a briefing on the activities of the next two days. God forbid, none of us even had the energy to refute it; the dinner was planned only after the briefing. For a moment, we all felt like prisoners of war threatened to finish some tasks for food. 33 hungry souls assembled and after a round of introductions from the organizing team, we were divided into two groups, Falcons and Eagles (wait, did I hear it right??). And then a round of introductions from each one of us within the sub-groups, followed by a mini-lecture, we all were provided food. Most of us rested early to be prepared for the onslaught awaiting us the next day.

6:30 in the morning after a whiff of coffee we all set out for the warming up ceremony. The scene was picturesque. On one end, right behind us, was a hill so steep that it reminded me of the movie ‘Vertical Limit’. Few yards on the opposite side, was a beautiful valley with the Mulshi Dam in the deep.  At 7 in the morning, at the edge of the plateau in a golden-yellow grassland resembling the tropical savannahs or the American Prairies, with the chill winds greeting us at almost 100 miles an hour, we began our warm-up. The group was really concerned about 5 or 6 of us (includes me too) if we would return alive or fly away with the soaring winds into the valley. Finally we all retuned with no incidents. After an hour the actual fun started. We played games one by one, and for every game, the group had to nominate a different leader, the game was played, and then there was a debriefing on the game.

Every game we played, the leader ended up sharing his/her learnings and the moderator/trainer would give his comments on the game, the performance and the learnings. While few of us were keenly interested in digesting every single word coming out of the moderator’s mouth, some of us were keenly interested in displaying our intellectual prowess of international standards. Some of us were indifferent, whereas some others were just nodding their heads in acceptance to whatever the moderator said, and occasionally glowing in glee relating themselves to certain instances during the games. The group’s opinions as such had been a bag of contradictions, despite some common conclusions coming out each time. On the whole, it was a lot of fun watch and experience a bunch of intellectuals analyzing (read: forced to analyze) simple games in the most sophisticated manner.

The evening was the best of all. We were being taught the skills of ‘Navigation’ and ‘Pacing’ which would be needed for a Treasure Hunt for that night. Our dear friend Vishal Suryawanshi (read: Kung Fu Panda) was practising Pacing. To our surprise, when all of us were taking 60-80 steps to cover 50 metres, probably his ‘inner peace’ helped him achieve the same in 42 steps (in reality 65 steps). The group was held in utter dismay hearing this and we made him repeat the same three times and finally had to send someone along to take a count. Only then we realized that he was so ‘peacefully’ engrossed in enjoying the task that he missed his count. We then had a hearty laugh and went on for another event named “Acid Factory Leak”.

The event itself was a drama and the debriefing was a bigger drama. We were divided into two sub-groups of 8 each and each group was given 3 barrels and 2 planks and we had to cross a given distance in 45 minutes. It was an acid factory leak and the barrels have an anti-corrosive coating at the bottom which can save us. All the 8 of us had to cross it at once. We enjoyed the event though amidst the high filmy drama which reminded me of a Mithun da’s or a Sunny Deol’s ‘Save the World’ scenes. Both the groups barely managed to finish it in time. The gyaan session that happened during the debriefing ended up being a spoilsport for the entire event.

The best part of the outing then happened. It was an outdoor treasure hunt in the woods and grasslands on the plateau in the dark night. We had to find out the locations using our navigation and pacing techniques learnt earlier in the day. It was really fun. A group of 5, all of us armed with torches, one carrying a compass, two of us carrying hand sticks for safety, one of us holding the sheets of information, all set out wandering in the wilderness to discover the hidden treasure of Garudmaachi. It was a thrilling experience to move out in an unknown territory searching for clues based on directions and distances. For a moment, we all felt that we were a part of a National Geographic Channel expedition. Finally, our mini-group managed to finish it first and we stood waiting at a bus shelter, the place where the treasure lay hidden in a box with three locks. We had one key. So, after almost half-an-hour, the other two groups returned with their keys and we opened the box. To our surprise, there was a box of chocolates and another clue leading to the place where there was the final treasure. We immediately went towards the place and discovered the invaluable treasure, a bag of CAPs for all of us. Extremely overjoyed at finding the treasure all of us moved ahead for dinner. The best part of the event was that there was no debriefing. And we had a good gala time partying, that night.

The next morning, we trekked to the hill top from where we had a breathtaking view of the entire valley and the plateau. We stayed there for a while and then came back for the next activity, Rappelling. Again, all of us really cherished the activity probably because there was no debriefing. And then, the Falcons and Eagles became one again for one last activity. This was again followed by a debrief and then in the afternoon, after a round of feedback on the stint, we packed our bags and left the quiet, serene, uninha(i)bited, natural hilltop to embrace the noisy, populated, artificial city of Mumbai.

Every one of us was as good as a dead and wilted crow both in terms of our physical and mental state when we landed in Garudmaachi. However, the two day stint more or less rejuvenated our spirits and when we actually left the place, we were very refreshed. However, during those two days, while some of us were very happy enjoying the nature and the place, some were busy contemplating on the days to come and the pending tasks to be accomplished at work. A couple of us were so committed to work that they were full time on phone directing people from there. Though it was good to meet all my batch-mates after almost working for a financial quarter, it was not so encouraging to see this happening to some of them. There were two idiots to whom some personal commitments (read: work) were so important that they did not even attend the program.

Another good thing was that we got small gifts after each activity to celebrate the successful completion. The gifts ranged from detergent cakes (read: box of chocolates) to invaluable treasures (read: box of chocolates). After two days of adopting the ‘brief-play-debrief’ syndrome, I still feel that leadership has no formulae. It can’t be taught. But one thing essentially came out during the training. Every individual is a leader in his or her domain in some context or the other. Just that sometimes it is explicit and sometimes it is not. Leadership is only a matter of attitude and behaviour and it has to be cultured from within. While such activities do not teach us something entirely new, they definitely help rekindle some lost traits inherent in us. They may just provide us opportunities to introspect and realize our needs. Thereafter, it is all a matter of self-discipline to cultivate the inherent traits in us and make ourselves effective leaders in our respective spheres.

On the whole, it was a good two-day weekend retreat from the daily hectic routine of work and travel. I really feel that one should always have such outings as frequently as once in at least two months to kick our lowered spirits back into place. And now when I write this, the memories of the place still haunt me.

Disclaimer: The way in which the events are described in this blog is only intended for pun and not meant to demean anyone. In fact, some of the learnings were phenomenal, and I even got to try them at my workplace. The result is that it encouraged me to plan a similar workshop in my company sometime in the next couple of months. However, I still stand on my conclusion that “Leadership can never be taught. It only has to be cultivated from within.” 

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About Uday Sankar Yerramilli

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  1. Thank you for remembering me, idiot!! X-(

  2. ahem, each word brings back memories... how come uday,u didnt mention how forlorn you were looking the first day ...dont you remember !!! :P