Pointless story; was I being a jerk?

I was in a 6-week leadership training course several years back, and there was an exercise that went down like this:

The instructor gave us a scenario with something like 8 characters and a tragic event; each character was partially responsible for the event, and our task was to rank order the characters from most responsible to least, and come up with a unanimous concensus as a group. Up until this point, I hadn’t been very outspoken in the class, but I don’t like being manipulated, so I stood up and made a proposal. I explained to the group that there was no right answer, that we were merely being subjected to an exercise in decision making and team dynamics. I suggested that we let one of the quiet girls in the back of the room arbitrarily rank-order the list and then all throw our support behind it so we could go to lunch early.

Much to my surprise, everyone (20-25 people) agreed, and 2 minutes later we were ready to jet. The instructor was visibly annoyed with me as she tried to prompt some more discussion, but everyone stuck to their guns and insisted that the order we came up with was the only possible solution. She eventually relented and let us all take a 2 hour lunch.

I’ve always felt pretty smug about that moment – after all, I got a couple dozen people to agree on something that was specifically designed to spark disagreement. But lately I’ve felt like a jerk about the whole thing. My wife told me at the time that it was a jerk move and I didn’t believe her, but she’s usually right about these things.

If I was in your group I wouldn’t have let you get away with it. And I would have thought you were a jerk. So yeah.

ETA: Not that you are, or even might be a jerk now. But at the moment I would have thought so.

I find it ironic that the instructor teaching leadership got absolutely manhandled by her class. You should all get your money back for that course.

I would have thought you were awesome for sparing us all from such a frivolous exercise.

Bravo for your leadership in the leadership class. So often these classes turn into an exercise in going along to get along that they are the exact opposite of leadership instruction. That said, you were kind of a jerk because everybody knows the lesson we are supposed to take away from leadership class is to never stand out and to always go along with the group - at least in my experience. If you are like me you have to take X hours of leadership training and cutting it short doesn’t meet that requirement.

PC me: yes, that was jerkish and the group lost some valuable “team building skills” through your gaming of the system. I am radiating disapproval.

Real Me: Kid, you played a percentage and it came off. Good work and I hope it was a great lunch. And if I were a member of that group, I’d by far garner more benefit from a 2 hour lunch than any “team building” exercise, so thank you.

You didn’t really do the assignment as given, which was to work at building a consensus about an artificial scenario.

On the other hand, you kind of did build a consensus, just not following the method intended.

I would say that it was mildly disrespectful to the instructor, but no big deal, and that you actually did show some intuitive leadership.

I cannot stand stupid role-playing exercises. My hat is off to you.

Not in the least bit a jerk. Brilliant move, IMO.

Machiavellian, without question. But you bypassed the intended lesson.

I think you deftly avoided learning the skills/information that the company paid for you to learn. Further, you made sure nobody else learned it either.

The company should take the cost of the class and the missed time out of your paycheck.

In future, you can avoid this by noticing the “I’m cool” feeling youhad while doing it. This sit he feeling of gettign away with doing less, and almost always coincicdes with jerk-hood. Watch for that feeling and any time you feel it call your wife for advice on your next action. Follow her advice.

it was probably pointless garbage anyway. Those class generally are. Good job! Way to show leadership!

The instructor should have made it a condition that you all reach a unanimous consensus on where to eat lunch.

Isn’t that what leadership is?

Yeah, that’s a sign of leadership all right.

Edit: seriously – isn’t the point of the exercise to force one of the participants into leading the team into a final resolution? Are people having a problem with how quickly it worked in this case?

The 20 - 25 people in your class did not think you were a jerk. If a single one of them thought your plan was jerkish, all they had to do was object, and you would not have had unanimous consent.

They were they, and we were not, so they are better judges of whether or not you were a jerk.

This was the Kobayashi Maru test - I guess if you think Kirk was being a jerk well then…

On the one hand, if I were the instructor, I’d be really annoyed. It’s pretty obvious that you didn’t care about the lesson and just wanted to leave and rallied others to openly support you, which is obnoxious. I’m sure that the instructor knows that people hate those types of classes, but they probably count on people not wanting to waste their company’s money, having that odd duck who’s actually interested and the rest having the courtesy to sit through the interminable and silly exercises, if only to be polite.

On the other hand, you performed the exercise to the letter, if not in the spirit, intended. And I agree that there’s no real answer to the situation - it’s very subjective - so wasting time on something that has no solution is irritating.

Bottom line: Yes, I think you were being kind of a jerk, disrespectful of the instructor and wasting your company’s money. That said, you provided the instructor the requested results - an assessment of who was culpable. I don’t think it was outlandish jackassery, but still kind of crappy.

Tho I agree very much with your approach, and have thought as much myself any number of times, I think I would put you down towards the jerk end of the spectrum. Sure, the exercise was pointless. Such training (nearly) always is. But you encouraged the group to act disrespectful towards an outside “trainer” who was invited into your workplace by your superiors, and who was just doing their job.

So, you intentionally acted in a way that was pretty much guaranteed to frustrate/inconvenience/annoy someone who was just doing their job. I think that’s somewhat jerky if avoidable.

Like I said, I agree 100% with your take on the exercise. I have reached the point where I go into any meeting/training assuming that the BEST possible result is for it to simply be a complete waste of however long it lasts. And my primary - if not SOLE - goal is to simply avoid saying ANYTHING. Because if I open my mouth it is too likely that I will say something about what a waste of time the training/meeting is.

IMO&E whatever personal satisfaction you may experience from “speaking the truth” in such situations, if vastly outweighed by the possibility of undesireable repercussions from management when they learn of your manner of participation.

Also, not sure I would agree that you got a couple dozen people to agree on something that was specifically designed to spark disagreement You got people to agree not to do the exercise as intended. IME it wouldn’t take too much to convince a bunch of professionals not to do something they considered pointless.

No one was being a jerk. If anyone was at fault it is whoever designed and/or approved the flawed exercise.

I think if it had been anything but a leadership seminar, that would have been jerkish. As it is, if I were the instructor, I would have given you an A+ for an impromptu demonstration of leadership in real life. I wouldn’t, however, have released the class for lunch early. I probably would have started a discussion on why what you did was an example of leadership. :slight_smile:


These exercises are attempts to simulate the real world a bit, and give people (not just you) practice in handling certain situations. In this case, achieving consensus. I have taken negotiations training where artificial limits are set on what part we could negotiate. The goal was to force learning of a particular type of negotiation style.

Now, there ARE some useless instructors, and some poorly thought out scenarios. However - you did not (appear) to give it a chance. I have done two interesting ones - a plane crash in the desert and a bush fire in Australia. In each you have to choose a course of action, and rank the items to keep. Each person does the ranking individually, then the group makes a joint list. Finally, you find out the real answers. It is interesting to see the people who knew what to do (highly correlated with the correct answer) who are members of groups that did poorly. That triggers yet another leadership discussion.

You can go into these treating them like a joke, and screw over the other participants. Or you can treat them as a learning exercise, and try to maximize your value. You were not a jerk as much as you were immature. Then again, many of us have been that way about learning in life, where we skipped classes, did the minimum effort, etc. The difference here is that you screwed others and not just yourself.