There I was, nervously searching the sky for the fly ball that was rocketing my way. I was 14, I was in the outfield, I didn’t have a glove, and, unbeknownst to me, I had recently developed shortsightedness.
I missed the catch badly.
It was a clumsy and embarrassing moment, one of many at that time. It was tough to handle for a shy, self-conscious teenager. I wanted to give up playing.
A couple of years later, during a High School sports class, the teacher came over to me after one of my regulation dropped balls and said: “Has anyone ever taught you how to catch a ball?” I displayed all the behaviour typical of every corporate manager, no matter how senior, when asked to present in front of the group in a way that they are not used to doing: I smiled, I shuffled my feet, I looked like I wasn’t that impressed, as if to say “why is this even important?”
Leading People to the Breakthrough
The teacher smiled and said: “You keep taking your eye off the ball. You worry too much about your hands. Trust your hands. They know what to do. Just keep your eyes on the ball, no matter what.” I had a few goes at getting it right. I wasn’t trying. I was already convinced I was going to fail. I just wanted to minimize the embarrassment. Yet he persisted. He nudged and pushed me in a friendly way, insisted I keep at it. At one point he turned and ran away from me, and then suddenly spun around and threw me a very long ball. I can’t remember why but I locked my eyes on it. I forgot about my hands. Nothing in the world would have distracted me in that moment. Amazingly, the ball landed lightly and perfectly into my waiting cupped hands. There was a long silence and then a loud cheer from the teacher and from the other boys watching nearby.
In that moment something shifted in the universe.
I got it.
It was much more than an ‘aha!’ moment. It was ‘movement in the force’. It was a subtle realignment of the stars.
It was a ‘breakthrough moment’.
I am in the room watching the emerging leaders, managers and high potentials, watching them like a hawk, knowing that despite all their avoidance behaviour, their bluster, excuses or embarrassment, they are all on the cusp of a breakthrough in the way they present themselves to the world, a breakthrough in their communication style that will change their lives. I just have to be there with them, to gently nudge, push and guide them to the place where they discover that, no matter how challenged, they can learn how to do something they previously thought was impossible.