I learned something about myself today that I didn’t know before. To explain my stroke of insight, I need to explain my morning exercise ritual and how today was different. First, most of you reading this know I’m an avid runner. I find distance running a beautiful thing. I started running in my twenties because as an uncoordinated and weak athlete, running was a way for me to participate in a sport without letting anyone else down. But after two decades dedicated to the sport, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. As I’ve gotten older, my doctor recommended strength training to keep my body strong for distance running as I age.
Anything to grow old running.
So, in addition to strength training on weights, today I decided to join a couple of friends for a core conditioning class. It was my first class so I made a huge assumption that my lack of knowledge would not be an issue and the expectation of my performance would be relatively low. That was not the case. The instructor introduced himself then quickly introduced me to the equipment. He asked me if I liked a good workout and I said, yes. He said “good let’s get going”. Before I knew it the class was following a series of his commends. There were springs to pull, foot placements to consider, form, bands to leverage and all this while making the necessary move on que. I would barely get a move down before we were onto the next sequence. Twice the instructor yelled out “Newbie, this way.” A few more times, he laughed at me and finally in the end when I had flat out gave up on trying to keep up with it all, he lowered his head and shook it back and forth.
After the class ended, I felt like I had run 20 miles with no water break. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. He said, “What did you think?” Disappointed and frankly angry that he had been so impatient with me, I told him I thought I wasn’t the right student for him. He responded, “Why? You did a great job. I asked you if you wanted a good workout.”
I told him, “I need a teacher with a little more patience.” Instead of signing up for another class I put on my running shoes and left for my go-to work out; a long run.
As I ran, I reflected. First, I was disappointed in myself for reacting to the instructor in the way I did. I wished I had been less expressive with my frustrations. He meant well and frankly I was embarrassed and acting out. But what I learned about myself was worth the embarrassment. I realized that as a runner, I love competitions. I love races, I love it when my friends on my running team and I compete for highest mileage or best pace because I’m good at running. It pushes me to a whole new level when I’m challenged. But with strength building, I’m a wimp. And when it comes to using a platform and all kinds of equipment I’m not familiar with, I’m insecure and ill-equipped. What I really needed to thrive was a little hand holding and positive reinforcement. I didn’t get that from this instructor and I left feeling bad about myself and unmotivated to return.
I wonder how often as leaders we push people when what they need is a little hand holding to thrive. Or how often do we hand hold people when what they need to thrive is to be challenged and pushed. It made me realize that if we are not asking our people then we won’t know. And even if we ask them, they may not know themselves well enough to have an informed response. Like I’ve shared with my insight, I always thought I responded well to being challenged but as it turns out that only works when it’s something I’m already good at. When I’m unskilled and feeling vulnerable, I need someone whose patient and walks me through things step by step.
Do you know yourself well? Do you know what works for you? Do you know what works for your people? More importantly, how will you find out?
Angela Sebaly, CEO of Personify Leadership and author of the new book “The Courageous Leader: How to Face Any Challenge and Lead Your Team to Success.”