There are certain words that seem weak. Words like Compassion, Authenticity, or Gentleness. These do not seem like “Leadership words!” They invoke painful stereotypes of being forced to “talk about our feelings” in a counseling office, or be treated like a door mat in the competitive business world. I’d like to suggest that “WEAKNESS CAN STRENGTHEN YOUR INFLUENCE!” Or, what is perceived to be weakness, can strengthen your influence. Leaders who leverage serving others, showing compassion and fairness, and offer a gentle ambitious humility turn organizations upside-down with success. Already, you may not “buy” the thesis… But you the reality is, we see what people are made of in the moments of weakness and defeat.
Weakness Brings Out What’s Inside
Anyone can be happy when things are going well. Anyone can treat others graciously when you are at the top of your game. But when you are in hot water, being pounded on the anvil, and coming out of the fire, that’s when we find out what a leader is really made of. I heard it said this way one time, “People are like tea bags, you find out what’s inside, when you put them in hot water.”
Sara Tucholsky played softball at Western Oregon University for four years and had never hit a home run. On April 26, 2008, as Sara and her team took the field for the second game of a double-header against Center Washington University, she knew the season would soon come to an end – and with it, her college softball career. Sara took a swing at the second pitch – and the ball soared over the center field fence. It was gone – a three-run homer. Sara took off, but in her excitement she rounded first base without tagging the base. Realizing her mistake, she pivoted to go back and tag it properly. Meanwhile, Sara’s coach, Pam Knox, was coaching third base. She high-fived the first two runners as they rounded third, heading for home – then she spotted Sara on the ground between first and second, her face twisted in pain. In her haste to double back, Sara had twisted her knee, tearing a ligament. Her knee would no longer support her weight, so she crawled agonizingly back to first base. She had just hit her one and only career home run, but if she couldn’t run the bases, she wouldn’t score the run. Coach Knox knew that if any of Sara’s teammates or coaches touched her, the home run would be invalidated. Sara had to touch every base on her own – yet she couldn’t run, couldn’t even stand. As Sara clutched first base, the umpires conferred over the rule book, then announced that, under the circumstances, Western Oregon would have to replace Sara with a pinch runner at first, and the hit would go down as a two-run single, not a three-run homer. It seemed there was no choice. Then someone shouted, “Excuse me!” All eyes turned to the Central Washington first baseman, Mallory Holtman. “Would be it OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”
Everyone on the field was stunned. The rules prevented Sara’s own teammates from helping her – but the rules said nothing about Sara’s opponents helping her. So Mallory Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace went to Sara, lifted her off the ground, and carried her to second base, touching Sara’s left foot to the bag. Then to third base. Then home. Up in the stands, fans of both teams cried, cheered, and gave the trio a standing ovation. The game went on and in the end, Western Oregon held on for a 4-2 victory. “I will never, ever forget this moment,” Coach Knox said later. “It’s changed me, and I’m sure it changed my players.”
No one would wish to have a little girl hurt, but that weakness brought out what was inside Mallory and impacted an entire community… Weakness will bring out what’s inside and also breeds resilience in us…
Weakness Breeds Resilience
It is in moments of weakness that we see a power, a hope, a forgiveness, a grace flow out that couldn’t have been seen in “normal” easy circumstances. Weaknesses are open portals into the leader that allow him to develop resilience. Develop the ability to overcome. Create inner fortitude and character that allows you to say, “I don’t need to fear the next obstacle, in light of what I’ve already overcome, I can overcome anything that comes my way.”
This past 8 years, I have seen more weakness and resilience dumped into my life than ever before. My first year in Cincinnati, all 4 of us in my family were constantly ill, 104 temperatures, from ongoing sinus infections that kept us running from doctor to doctor trying to keep ahead of the punches. We had the exciting challenges of staffing a church that went from 1 service to 2 services, to 2 different kinds of service while working on the usual challenges of staffing. My wife and I went through a multi year process of praying about adoption, finally went ahead with it, to have almost 2 years of no news… Heartbroken, we were about to shut down the process when last minute, a baby was being placed with us… Then months later as we had him in our home, we discovered he was born blind and would probably never see… Then 6 months later, it looked like he was learning how to see despite his handicap, but he might be autistic… Meanwhile, exciting leadership challenges including finding land, buying land, raising capital for this facility, moving dirt, making plans, an creating strategic initiatives for the new building. At the end of the day, I look back over the past 8 years… And weakness (I never would have hoped for) has developed resilience. My wife and I have said in some of those most difficult moments, “if we can survive this, we can survive anything…”
Like the scene when Rocky Balboa told his son, “It’s not about how hard you hit…it’s about how hard you can GET hit and still stand up…” The RRC (Resilience Research Center) has studied resilience across cultures and countenance and shown that one of the greatest things we need as leaders, one of the greatest things we must push into our children, and one of the greatest strengths for living life is RESILIENCE: Which they define as an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development.
So, why does weakness Strengthen your Influence as a leader? Weakness reveals what inside and Weakness Breeds Resilience…and Resilience is the most important factor human beings need to handle literally “whatever comes our way…” The Bible has a principle that is so powerful, so developmental, so radical, and so counter-intuitive that it can change anything and everything about your leadership. The principle is:
RESILIENCE BREEDS BRILLIANCE
There is a level of confidence, power, strength, character, hope… In a word: Brilliance, that can only be refined in the molten fire of Resilience. And no one knew that better than a leader named Paul. Paul, the apostle, started hundreds of churches, circled the known world many times creating these holistic spiritual wellness centers called churches. He was a lawyer, a pastor, a philosopher, an educator, a trainer, a coach, and one of the most successful leaders in human history -mobilizing a movement of people exploring and experiencing God that would last and flourish in every country in the world, 2000 years later. Very impressive. By anyone’s standards.
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