To graduate from high school, I had to learn a foreign language. Being dyslexic, I always wanted everyone to understand that English was my foreign language. However, my choices at the time were French, German, and Russian. I tried French and failed out quickly. Therefore, I ended up in Latin class where I was overwhelmed and behind from the beginning. But, in the midst of all these difficulties, there was one person who transformed it all for me. She was my Latin teacher.
Recognizing how much I struggled with English, this teacher we would sit down with me each day, either in study hall or after school, and she would tutor me. Upon reflection, I have come to realize that mostly we talked about Latin, language in general, and my learning difficulties. We also did some, but not much of my actual Latin homework.
In the end, she passed me out of Latin and gave me the gift of being able to graduate from high school. I remember that during one of our final conversations together she pointed out that I should not be defined by my disability as much as by my abilities.
This all happened decades before the Gallup organization did all of their research on strengths based management and leadership. This also took place before there were numerous book published in the 90’s about supporting people’s talents and helping them minimize their weaknesses.
As for me, this depth of clarity about how to work with people comes from the understanding that people are doing the best they can with what they have and in the environment within which they are working. If we as leaders want people to do even better, we need to place them in an environment that is safe, compassionate and supportive. Then, their problems and challenges will not be the sole definition of who they are and what they can do.
This week, be a role model for defining people by their abilities, not just their challenges.