Leaders Bring Out Your Best

I've written about playing to your strengths several times before (I admit it's a favorite topic of mine) and its opposite: dealing with weaknesses and failures. I've read and written about how some of the richest and most successful outsource anything they are not good at. Alison Levine, in her book On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership (also mentioned in my last post), brings strengths and weaknesses to another level.

Alison is an extreme adventurist who has climbed some of the highest mountains and gone on expeditions to some of the coldest and most remote places in our world. These activities—and the life and death nature of them—has taught her some extreme lessons about leadership and success that she applies to business, both in this book and in the talks she gives.

Alison explains how despite her training for an expedition, she was slowing her team down due to her short height and lower weight. Everyone had to literally drag a sled with gear behind them, across icy and unlevel terrains, by a rope tied around their waist. As hard as she tried to keep up and push herself, there was no way she could compete with her taller and heavier (in other words, stronger) team mates. She was the weak link and hated it.

After days of grueling work and putting her team at risk of frostbite or running out of supplies as they slowed down for her, Alison was silently moping in her tent when she overhead her team leader and another team mate. They were sympathizing with how hard she was working and were plotting to help her. She was astounded and acted surprised the next day when they made a whole drama about how unfairly heavy her sled was and "evening" it out.

Not only did the gesture—and lighter weight—make her feel better, but their approach taught her a valuable lesson about true leadership: leaders try to bring out the best in their team and position them for success. If this is not possible, they will creatively work with their team member to help them, but in a way that will not further demoralize them.

Since Alison wanted to say thank you and realized the team leader, due to his height, hated shoveling the snow to prepare for camp, she pretended she loved shoveling so that he'd let her do it for him. She realized that what was a weakness in other circumstances (i.e., her shortness), was actually a strength in this one and used it to help her team leader.

I've unfortunately experienced being in the wrong position and therefore "failing." It's not something I will ever forget or be okay with, but after reading Alison's retelling of this story, I realize how true leadership could have mitigated both my "failure" and how horrible I felt afterwards.

So whether you have staff or just team mates, who can you help overcome their weakness, thereby making all of you a stronger whole?

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