Lead with Your Strengths, Connect through Your Weaknesses
It was April of my last year of college in Ireland, I was in substantial debt, and searching for any teaching and coaching job I could get in America. I was being interviewed by phone with the Principal and Academic dean of an attractive Catholic School in Tennessee. Throughout the call I had been working hard to present my “ best” self for the last 30 minutes. It was going pretty well, but I could tell this was still a long shot. I was having to convince a school to hire an outsider with 0 years of teaching experience who happened to be living in a different country.
“Before we let you go, just one more question.”
Oh boy. I realize this it. The courteous wrap up question before I never hear from this school again.
“What role does your Catholic faith play in your life?”
Easy question to present my “best” self. I had gone to Catholic school all my life and been born into a very devout Catholic family. I can craft the perfect answer I know he wants to hear. Not lying, but just focusing on the good points and leaving out all the bad stuff.
Yet for some reason I choose to not B.S. this answer.
“Well… I would not consider myself a practicing Catholic. My faith life has been incredibly rocky and I am still questioning a lot of things. I am still searching for answers. The truth is that faith and religion have not always been a big part of my life.”
I expected this to be the end of the interview at this stage and the door shut to this opportunity.
Instead, the honest answer sparked a conversation that would last another 30 minutes and the principal sharing how he struggled a great deal at similar stages in life. A few hours later I got an email offering to pay for my flight across the Atlantic to meet with them in person.
I have no idea to this day why I chose to open up and be vulnerable, but I know that by being vulnerable and authentic I was able to make the necessary connection and gain the respect that could never have been achieved by presenting some perfect version of myself .
Whether it is a job interview, our latest post on Instagram, or a conversation we have a with one our children, players or employees, our natural inclination is to just present our good side or the best version of ourselves. We are afraid to show the bad and even sometimes the ugly.
Think about these to questions for a minute. Even write out your answers.
What is the good you present to others?
I worked tirelessly as a player.
I was the team captain and a leader.
I lived my dream playing Division 1 basketball.
I led an Irish youth basketball club to the become one of the best in the country.
I won countless league championships, school basketball titles, and a women’s college division 1 league championship.
I coached a semiprofessional men’s basketball team at the age of 22.
I coached a high school varsity program to back to back districts championships and the school’s first region win in 13 years.
Over the last ten years I have built an impressive resume in coaching with a wide variety of experiences that few basketball coaches in the country possess. It is not hard for me to go on about my “success” if I want to.
What is the bad you are afraid to show?
I never scratched the surface of my potential, because I gave up on my dream.
I often stood out for my selfishness and explosive behavior and attitude as a player.
I mentally psyched myself out of nearly every game I played.
My high school basketball coach destroyed my self-worth.
In college I never felt I belonged or was good enough. I felt like a fraud living out my lifelong dream.
In my first year of coaching I was fired from one team because all the women walked out of my practice.
Once my team lost 108-13.
I have been ejected from a game twice and received nearly 100 technicals.
As a coach I often acted like the very monster I hated as a player.
I believed I was coaching to help transform lives, but I was often just using my players for personal validation.
When I wrote out my bad and ugly… my less than best moments… I realized I would much rather listen and talk with someone that had or was still fighting to overcome challenges. I would follow someone that was willing to show they were not born perfect and still are far from perfect.
While people may seem more interested in a leader with all the good, in my experience they are more willing to trust and connect with someone who has failed and struggles. Someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable and share those experiences.
Learning from my failures, weaknesses, and times when I was at far less than my best has given me necessary experience to effectively lead and help others. Our real story is what people will connect with. As leaders just being vulnerable enough to share our struggles and desire for progress can go along way.
A few years ago I had reached a critically low point in my relationship with a few players. My decision to open up and share my weaknesses as a coach and admitting some of my personal struggles to these players was a turning point in the course of our relationships. It was a gamble I took that paid off big time. Instead of these players respecting me less, the players opened up and admitted to some of their own struggles and fears.
Trust and respect is not built by showing off only the good, it is done by sharing the struggles and challenges that our life entails. Our rough edges give others something to grab on to.
Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, it takes humility.
Vulnerability shows strength.