Has there been a time when people resisted your sincere efforts to earn their trust?
Have you ever felt like you had given up your pen and allowed others to write your story and in the process unjustly decide how you would be defined and remembered?
When I was in Kindergarten, I remember obediently sitting cross-legged on the floor with my classmates and wanting very much to please my teacher, Mrs. Johnson. However, every time I heard Mrs. Johnson say “Shhhhh!” to quiet us down, I would momentarily panic and my face would flush because I was afraid that “Shhh…” would lead into a drawn out reprimanding call of “Shay!”
Her shushing the class never led to little Shay being scolded, but my heart still raced every time.
I never wanted to be in trouble. The idea of disappointing someone horrified me. I wanted to please. What I valued most even at a young age was TRUST. As I grew older that did not change, it was always important that my parents, coaches and especially my teachers trusted me.
As an educator, leader and coach I continued to value the trust of my students, student athletes and administrators above anything else.
That is why I sincerely struggled and felt like I fell into a very long and uncomfortable episode of the Twilight Zone a few years ago when for the first time I found it particularly hard to gain the trust of a group I was supposed to lead.
In spite of this feeling, I knew that I would never be more ready for such a tremendous growth opportunity. I was excited to be coaching at such a high level. I had the experience and the success that proved I was ready. I was determined to grow into the job.
Why then did voices begin to enter my head as I sat in that big chair? Would they find out that I still had room to grow? Would they find out that I wasn’t entirely ready, but only willing to do what it took to be successful? Would they find out I was still growing and learning? Would they think I was some sort of a fraud?
I became aware of Internet chat rooms with pages and pages dedicated to the discussion of whether or not I was a good hire. Most of them argued I was not. People could post with the luxury of anonymity but it was not hard to figure out that some of these were people I called friends; people that had told me they supported me.
Although I swore to never look at those sites again, I found it hard to quell the voices in my mind and get the gremlins to shut up.
To my administrators credit, they did tell me when they hired me that I had a fairly “Empty Barn”. Meaning most of the talent and strength of the team had graduated; they expected it would take some rebuilding to recapture previous success.
What they did not tell me was that in this group of athletes I inherited, there was a level of entitlement I had not before witnessed. Nor did they inform me that these young athletes specifically wanted a male coach and these Division I girls did not want a former junior college coach telling them how to play.
Oblivious to the facts above, I came in excited to empower them, influence them and lead them like I had all the teams and athletes I had worked with before. On previous teams I achieved a level of trust where we spoke the same language. In fact, in a time-out I could simply ask, “How fast can you change?” and my team would all look at me and snap their fingers in unison. When they did, I knew that they would go back out on the court, make the necessary adjustments and win.
This new group, however, seemed to mock the enthusiasm that had previously influenced and empowered so many others to unprecedented success.
I felt like I showed up excited to dance at a party, only to learn that I wasn’t invited.
I assumed trust would follow. I assumed far too much. I mistakenly believed that my reputation and credibility would already be known. I failed to understand the environment I was walking into and how I would need to establish new trust with this team before I could ever expect them to see my vision.
They didn’t know me, hadn’t worked with me before, and didn’t trust me because of their own preconceived ideas. Regardless of why, the fact was they did not trust me and interpreted every decision in the exact opposite manner of which I intended.
Needless to say, the first three years were very hard and full of challenges as well as some incredible experiences. When I took the job, I knew it would not be an instant road to success. I had a five year plan that meant creating the right environment and culture in our gym, recruiting the right kids, creating a strong knowledgeable staff and allowing myself to be taught and mentored any chance I could.
After three years, I felt like the big chair was finally starting to fit. I could see that my time had been well spent and my hard work was paying off. My five-year plan was on track. I had recruited kids that were coming because they believed in me, TRUSTED me, and they believed in OUR vision and OUR mission.
We had lots of reasons to be excited for the 2011 season. For my staff and I, it was full of firsts. It would be our first year with a team that we had recruited specifically to be a part of our vision and plan (not to mention one of the top 15 recruiting classes in the nation). As a team we would be joining a brand new conference and would have the chance to make a new first impression. We were given the beautiful opportunity to start over with a new group. The timing could not have been better.
After three years of turning in less than stellar seasons we would have the chance to show who we had become. People would remember the 2011 season as the year we turned it around. I spoke to my girls about the power of New Beginnings and the chance to make a first impression; together we planned to make a big one.
Trust had arrived.
Just 5 weeks before the start of our 2011 season, I was asked to meet with my athletic director at 4 pm on Monday. I thought it was just a routine meeting.
Turns out it was no routine meeting. It was then that I was told they would be “going another direction” with the volleyball program and would no longer need my services. I learned that just 15 minutes before meeting with me, they had already offered my job to my assistant whom I had mentored and who had become a best friend.
I found some relief in this because I knew the team I cared so much about would be in good hands, but it was certainly hard to understand. He would get to finish the work we had begun together and would even be named coach of the year in 2011.
I felt like that little Kindergartner again and felt the shame of disappointing so many.
Shay, they were right!
Shay that chair was too big!
Shay, you are a mediocre coach!
Shay you are not a strong enough leader!
Shay you are not good enough!
Shay they don’t TRUST you!
Were they right? Could a university, an Internet chat room, and a lousy chapter in my life, define who I am?
It sure felt like it in the beginning. Earning the trust of this team, building their success, creating a new culture and tradition as well as proving many people wrong had consumed the previous three years of my life.
It felt like I hit rock bottom, but I refused to drag. I decided from the first day that in spite of how badly it hurt, I would bounce.
Luckily I was taught from a young age to always look for the lesson and to find the take away in my mistakes. I knew that this would be an experience I would someday be thankful for. There had to be a bigger picture. I was convinced. It hurt, but I just needed to keep looking for the lessons.
After some time, here are some of the lessons and insights I gained:
I recognized that I have the power to say this is not how the story goes and this one fall from grace is not how I will be defined. I realized that many times in my life I had allowed others to define me for me.
This experience taught me that I could not write the story of my life if I was allowing others to hold my pen.
Also, if I hold the pen, but choose not to write and define myself – it is no different from allowing someone else to hold my pen for me. If I am not actively involved with writing my story it will be written for me.
I also realized, that this particular experience was just one of many chapters and I could not write the next chapter of my story if I kept rereading the last chapter. There comes a time to turn the page on one chapter so you can really live in and write the next.
And this next chapter I am currently in is better than I ever imagined it could be.
In fact, here is another insight I gained.
I imagine someone presenting me with two doors or two choices to chose between in 2011: Door A or Door B.
Behind Door A I would find all the validity I was looking for. The three tough years, my hard work and our five-year plan would pay off. We would win championships, my athletes would get the accolades they deserve and there would be an enormous amount of trust within the team and respect from others.
Or behind Door B after going through some enormously valuable life lessons and a few more growing pains; I would find my best friend, an eternal companion, and my future husband. I would never be alone to face future challenges.
Knowing the person I was then, knowing how badly I wanted that trust and validity, knowing my pride that wanted so desperately to be reconciled – I know that as much as I wanted to open Door B, I would have chosen Door A.
Today, I am married to my best friend and there is nothing in the world that could persuade me to give up Door B.
4. GROWTH DOESN’T COME WITHOUT GROWING PAINS.
I am a better leader today because for the first time in my life, I had to learn how to lead a group that met me with distrust. Because trust had always come easy before, I took it for granted. I was reminded that trust must constantly be earned and respect is never automatic.
A good reputation and previous success is not enough for a new group to trust you, they want to know what you will do for them specifically, they want to know you care for them personally, and they want to know exactly how you will get them where they want to go. I assumed trust would follow me wherever I went and if I gave them my heart they would give me their trust; I learned far more about the science of trust when it didn’t work for me than I ever would had I not had this experience.
The chapters ahead are still unwritten and full of unknowns, wonderful experiences, and without a doubt will still include more lessons, trials and painful challenges.
But this much I do know: I will not be alone and I HOLD THE PEN.