When I was sixteen years old my family moved to a small town in Iowa half way through the school year. It wasn’t the first time I had to make new friends and start from scratch, but I admit I was intimidated by the small class sizes. I integrated quickly because I joined the basketball team. The season was coming to a close and I was told there was a parent’s night. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I mean, I imagined a bunch of parents and a potluck dinner.
I told my mom about it but she was exhausted from work and my father lived a couple hours away so he wasn’t able to make it. In my oblivious teenage fashion I show up for the parent’s night only partially interested and soon realized this was a lot bigger deal than I had thought. There weren’t just parents. Entire families showed up to this thing. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I was instantly horrified. The bleachers were set up to watch some sort of show and the podium was centered in the gym. My attention turned toward the lectern and I started rationalizing. It was obvious that we would be recognized in front of our families. No big deal. Nobody needed to know my family wasn’t there. As we lined up for our trek across the gym floor to get recognized I realized that the Moms and Dads were escorting each of my teammates across the stage! I had no Mom or Dad and I was the only one. My heart sunk. Anxiety filled my lungs and I started to panic. Why had I not made a bigger deal of this night? Why had my mother not thought enough of me to join me? Why am I sixteen years old, all alone in a gymnasium full of caring family members and none of them are mine?
Names kept being called and another set of proud parents walked the sweet apple of their eye across the floor. My mind frantically ran through escape scenarios. I could run out the back door. I could fake being sick and run out the front door. Oh why, oh why am I going to be humiliated in front of all of these people? Just then my name was called. I froze. Just then, I felt an arm lock in mine and a man led me across the gym floor. The man was the father of the teammate behind me. I looked back and saw her mother nod me off as if to say ‘go on, I will walk my daughter out’. The man that rescued me from crushing embarrassment was Coach McNeill. He was the boy’s basketball coach so I didn’t know him well. How did he know how desperate I was to have someone with me that night at that very moment? How did he know I wanted someone to save me from the humiliation of a lonely walk across that stage? How did he know to grab my arm in that moment? I am so grateful for his intervention.
Not only did Coach McNeill’s act of kindness that day warm my heart and bail me out of an absolutely agonizing situation, but it greatly impacted my life. The difference he made echoes through me and has a ripple effect into the next generation. I want to make a difference like that one day. I keep my eyes open for the opportunity to be the one to walk with someone in a time of need. I became a life coach for this reason. I know it also affects and impacts my daughter. She sees my example, the example set for me all those years ago. A thoughtful gesture in a moment in time can make all the difference in a person’s life. I have Coach McNeill to thank for that gift.
Years ago, becoming a master of a trade could be evidenced by the quality of the work you produced. A blacksmith could forge iron into something tangible like a gate or a tool or a decorative element. He would heat, hammer, bend and cut the iron or steel into a valuable work of art. It took years to master the art and the skill was developed in an apprentice relationship with a master.
In today’s information age it’s not only difficult to determine who is a master of their trade, but it’s almost impossible to differentiate one expert from another. I know many experts who have worked tirelessly for years to become the most credible and effective attorney, financial strategist, accountant or ‘fill in the blank’ in their field. These experts continually go unnoticed and their level of impact is minimal. Unfortunately it’s not the top expert who takes the front position, it’s the leader. The leader is not only an expert in their field, but spends time learning how to communicate, inspire, and educate. The leader stands out in his or her profession and makes an impact.
Being a leader demands that you step out of the crowd. A leader is called to share knowledge, create a movement, motivate others, influence the masses, and make a difference on a larger scale. If you’re goal is to be a leader in your field you’ll want to master the art of leading from the front of the room. Standing up and sharing a message effectively takes knowledge and skill just like anything else. Sure some people are more naturally gifted, but if it’s something you struggle with, it will comfort you to know you can be taught.
Authenticity means being real at the front of the room as well as in the hallway afterwards. Your audience needs you to be real if they are going to trust what you have to say. If they are going to follow your advice, change their thinking, or do something as a result of your message they will need to trust you first. If your actions don’t match your words you will appear to lack integrity and trust will never happen. Getting your message across is the reason you’re speaking so you’re going to need to ‘be you’ at the front of the room. If ‘being you’ at the front of the room means you say um or ah a few times, so be it. The audience will forgive you for ‘being you’. They will not forgive you for being a phony.
If you feel yourself going into presenter mode when you get in front of the crowd you’ll want to work on this. It’s easy to feel as though you are performing or having to turn on the charm when it’s your turn to speak, but I caution you to be aware of how this is coming across. If you’re concerned with perfection you will need to work through your deep interest in being flawless. The more flawless you are the less personality you have and that is an energy killer. The audience wants you. Vulnerable, imperfect, goofy you. They want to know what you have to say and they want to know that you’re the real deal. Use humor to bring personality out and ease nerves whenever possible. Again, consider your audience and what they need from you.
You weren’t fast enough, smart enough, strong enough, clever enough, or funny enough. The voice inside got louder as you tried something new or worked at making a change. With your eyes on the goal you tried to do better and do more each time. You were committed and motivated and in the beginning it worked. You saw progress and it inspired you to do more. You had your eyes on the goal and put maximum effort in.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. You had a couple of days of setbacks. You started to question whether you were doing everything correctly. You trudged on while gritting your teeth. You started to wear down. Your results weren’t at all what you were looking for so you took a break. Finally, you went right back to your old thinking and doing and lost all ground you previously gained.
We live in a goal oriented society where we feel it’s appropriate to celebrate only when we win. We are competitive and constantly climbing the rungs of the ladder of achievement. It perpetuates the stop start cycle of defeat and disappointment. Sometimes we give up before we even start, sure we’ll fall trap to the familiar plight.
Next time, try pivoting slightly for maximum impact. Change your measurement of success to effort instead of achievement. When you consider real effort as a reason to celebrate, check the box and motivate you begin to build consistency. Over time real effort is what it takes to sustain forward movement. Next time you set your eyes on a worthy goal think about what type of effort it will take to make this happen. Create benchmarks along the way that reinforce your ability to continually put in real effort verses your ability to achieve more. Reinforce your continual effort by asking yourself one question every night that has you answering yes or no. Yes you put in the effort or no you didn’t. Tracking effort is important because in time you’ll develop new habits and lasting change. If you don’t put in the effort you’ll have to consider if it’s really worth doing at all.
“What you do all of the time is more important than what you do some of the time.”
~ Mark LeBlanc