Apr 2, 2008

"We had General Lee, They Had General Grant": Lessons in Leadership Learned from Laser Tag

Our group after our laser tag session. David, our "General Lee", is in the picture. See the guy in blue with the baseball cap directly behind me? David is directly behind him.

Sunday, March 23, 2008, we headed out--with a little help from our friends--to play laser tag.

Perhaps it wasn't the most appropriate activity for Easter but it sure was fun.

It's a little odd the extent to which we enjoy the pretense of an activity that, were it real, would be terrifying and damaging even if one came away without any physical wounds. Nonetheless, there's something about sneaking in the forest playing at war that is undeniably fun. I'm sure someone could write a pyschological analysis of why this is--but I'll leave that to experts. I learned other lessons from our day of pretend warfare.

I've played laser tag once before, but never like this. The last time I played was indoors at a facility located in a nondescript Ohio strip mall. The laser guns were small and plastic, there were mazelike barriers to hide behind, and the occasional wisp of dry ice vapor in an attmept to create some atmosphere. Cairns Laser Tag, on the other hand, was a far more exciting experience. We had a sprawling outdoor course--they didn't need more than the occasional trench or camoflauge netting to create atmosphere; the unspoiled woods replete with muddy trails and an occasional misty rain were more than enough to set the martial mood. The guns were hefty metal weapons with a digital readout that reminded us of how much "ammo" we had left and how many "lives" we had. They made a satisfying gunshot-like report when we fired them. When an opponent's invisible laser beam hit the sensor on the front or back of the caps we were issued, the gun emitted a howl of pain and the digital read out spelled out the words "Ouch." When you ran out of "lives," the gun let out an agonized scream and you were out of the game. Which was okay because the 6 games we paid for ran about 15 minutes each, so it wasn't a long wait until you could get back in the action.

After an orientation, we chose up teams. The boys in our group eagerly clumped together, so it ended up being the adults and girls against the boys. We headed out into the forest for our first game. I hate to admitt it but I probably wouldn't last long in a real war. When the pressure is on, you find out what you've got--and what I had was a kind of slow motion paralaysis. I wasn't sure what to do or where to go and I ended up standing still too long, like a deer in headlights. Shots came from I knew not where. My gun howled with each incessant hit, until I was "dead" and trudged back to the orientation area to await the next game. The rest of my team didn't do much better. The boys wiped us out quickly. One of the few people we did manage to take out was the only person who could have helped us--a young man named David who was on our own team. He was out in front of the rest of us and he was quickly finished by confused "friendly fire."

David was a professional of sorts. He was there to play the same as us, but he really wasn't the same as us at all. He was an aficionado of laser tag, a regular at Cairns Laser Tag, and so familiar to the people who ran the joint that he was made a kind of unofficial assistant for the day--recharging our guns for us and giving advice. Advice, we didn't really listen to--at first.

I think David hoped to keep it low key, sit back and let us have fun. But after our pathetic showing in the first round, he spoke up a little more. He gathered us around--tried to give us some pointers. He spoke softly, reasonably, hoped we'd "get it." We didn't. The second game was another slaughter.

The third game, David was done fooling around. He stepped up, gave orders, roared commands once the game began--in short, he led. And we followed. And that made all the difference. We cleaned those boys out to the last man. They had no idea what hit them. David was our General Lee.

General Robert E. Lee

A little background for those of you who may not be U.S. History buffs: General Robert E. Lee was the key general for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was perhaps one of the best generals in the entire conflict, and certainly one of the best in military history. He was a brilliant tactitian, an aggressive, bold strategist. He inspired and motivated his troops--they were willing to go anywhere, do anything for the man they affectionaly referred to as "Marse Lee." Under his leadership the South won battle after battle in the early years of the Civil War. In contrast, the North went through a string of slow-witted, overcautious, uninspired, and uninspiring generals. President Abraham Lincoln found himself constantly frustrated by the incompetence of his generals who were losing the war for him.

And this was the position the boys found themselves in during our third and fourth games. They played with all the aggressive energy typical of adolescent boys, but no amount of wanton shooting and masculine courage could compete with an organized army led by a confident leader. Under David's tutelage we learned to move quickly, to cover the gaps in our lines, to methodically hunt down our enemies and send them packing from the game.

And I imagine that game 5 might have been gone much the same way. . .

Except they finally got their General Grant.

General Ulysses S. Grant

Let's return to the history book for a moment. There was a certain Union general that was building a reputation in the Western theater of the Civil War. After several key victories, President Lincoln moved this general, Ulysses S. Grant, to the eastern front and placed him in charge of the Northern armies. A lot of folks looked down on General Grant. He didn't dress particularly well, he had failed at virtually everything he'd tried in civilian life, and he was rumored to be overly fond of the liquor bottle. But Lincoln didn't care about any of that--"I like this man. He fights", he said. He did. He fought and he led. Under his leadership, the North would eventually push on to victory and Lee would surrender to Grant in April of 1865, spelling the end of the Confederacy and the system of slavery that had caused the Civil War in the first place.

For game five, our instructor, an employee of Cairns Laser Tag joined the boys side. Even David knew we were in trouble. Like General Grant, this man could fight--and lead. David had finally met his match. Lee had met his Grant.

Needless to say we lost the fifth game. But it was fun and the lessons I learned from all our games stuck with me. So often in life I see people in leadership shirk from their responsibilities as leaders. They don't want to come on too strong, they don't want to be perceived as "bossy" or arrogant. They want to be "cool" and chilled out, not the one who calls the shots and shoulders the responsibility. Likewise, many of us think we don't need leaders. We don't like having someone telling us what to do, giving orders. We want to do things our own way.

But in laser tag, and in life, leadership matters. Some of us have the gift and/or the responsiblity of leadership. We need to exercise that leadership. As a teacher, I can't sit around hoping my students will learn--I need to be an example, set the tone and the pace. I need to lead.

That Sunday in the woods I was reminded that for great things to happen, leadership makes all the difference.

P.S. You might be wondering about game 6? That was a different type of game where we grouped into teams of four and the goal was to eliminate as many of the other four-person squads as possible. I was on a team with Pastor Anthony, one of the boys of the Cairns youth group, and. . .David. We did pretty well, and were one of the final teams to be knocked out. I was the last one on our squad to go down--taken out by Amy--someone who had learned the lessons David taught and applied them with devastating effectiveness.

Mai and Riki, armed to the teeth and ready for battle. Thanks to Mai for the pictures. She brought her camera out to the playing area and was able to get these photos.

Mai with our three girls and one of the girls from the Cairns SDA Youth group pose with their weapons after the game.


the Purpose said...

Nice blog. I liked the civil war feel. Ya gotta love Lee, but I always have a soft spot for guys named Grant.

adam said...

awwww i wis i could be there!! sounds like alot of fun! man do i miss everyone..
greetings from the US of A,

adam said...

ahh, i forgot.. email me please!