When I first joined the John Maxwell Team (JMT) in order to become a speaker, coach, and leadership trainer – I was elated. I had finally found a venue where I could be trained and certified in what I felt my purpose was all about: becoming a public speaker. However, I quickly realized that not many shared my enthusiasm.
At my ‘day job’, when I happily shared with some co-workers that I had joined the JMT to become a speaker and leadership trainer, an older woman I work with looked at me with genuine disgust and contempt and said: “YOU… are going to be a… leader?” As she said this, she looked at me from head to toe as if trying to tell me: “You can’t possibly be serious. Have you even seen yourself?” Oh, and I’m not sure, but I think she threw up a little in her mouth as well. She was sincerely in disbelief. So, this could only mean one thing: her opinion of me was so low, that she thought I was either deluded or joking.
To be honest, it stung a little. Not because I valued her opinion. Actually, she had a habit of being mean with just about everybody, and before that episode I was beginning to feel left out. In reality, what made it sting was my realization that I had a long road ahead. Indeed, one does not simply decide one morning to become a leader. In a way, her mean words were a bit of a reality check towards my leadership journey. It was going to be a long road.
But it wasn’t the first time someone seriously doubted my leadership potential or ability…
When I was engaged to my wife, her family made it quite clear that my leadership was, in their opinion, severely lacking. At the time, my wife to be was even told that marrying me would be a huge mistake because of this. Of course, the fact that every time I saw them I kept telling jokes to try to ease the tension (they were somewhat too uptight in my humble opinion) didn’t help. They saw some qualities in me, but leadership was not one of them. I had trouble digesting that pill for years. In any case, my wife-to-be was able to see the diamond in the rough in me – and married me anyway.
Looking back today, I realize that those people who think little of us are put on our path for a reason. We can choose to just see them as mean people, or we can choose to see them as huge motivators and agents of change for our lives. The belittlers, the haters, the critics, the mean people in our lives indeed serve a purpose. They serve for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and to push ourselves harder. Does that mean we should aim to have them around? Nope. I try to avoid such people like the plague. When they do pop up in our lives however, with words of, ahem… um, personal growth (?); that’s when we have to decide what we will see them as: destructive haters… or agents of reflexion and possible change.
Oh, and for the record, sometimes in hindsight we will see some irony. In spite of all those critics I did become a certified speaker, coach, and yes, leadership trainer. I even wrote a book on leadership: Lead Like A Superhero – What Pop Culture Icons Can Teach Us About Impactful Leadership. So, in the end, always make sure YOU have the last laugh. As Frank Sinatra said: “The best revenge is MASSIVE success.”
Sebastien Richard is a certified speaker, coach, and trainer with The John Maxwell Team. He is also the founder of Thriving On Purpose (thrivingonpurpose.com) and the author of two books.