The Power to Destroy

Being the centre of attention in the room brings great power, and with that power comes great responsibility. At the beginning of any course you have a room full of people who have come to you. Maybe they are there because they have to be, maybe because they want to be; no matter the reason, what you do in that time and space can have huge consequences for the motivation, skills and development of the people who are spending their time with you.

In one of my roles I had weekly mentoring sessions with two colleagues that were very good friends; we would sit around a desk in a small room and I would train and mentor them. They would come together and, without fail, one would sit back in his chair, passively letting the session wash over him, while the other would sit as far forward as she could, taking everything in and answering every question as soon as the words left my mouth.

She was keen, desperate to learn and improve. She had requested this development, and she was going to get as much out of it as she could. Her colleague, however, was very lackadaisical about the whole thing. He was coming because the opportunity was presented to him, and he had decided that he might as well take it. He was interested, but he preferred to crack jokes and make everyone laugh rather than knuckle under and work hard.

As a trainer, I found it very frustrating. I wanted him to speak more, participate and learn. I tried to direct my questions to him specifically, calling on him by name, and she still answered for him. I gave her an irritated look and she stopped. She looked embarrassed, crestfallen, and she apologised. In that moment I knew that I was holding in my hand the power to destroy her enthusiasm and drive for the sessions. If I spoke to her harshly and voiced my frustration with her, she would never again skip into the room, ready to go. She would be chastised and humbled and afraid to speak.

It isn’t often that you get these moments, and see them with the level of clarity I had at the time they are happening, but I am so grateful that I was paying attention.

Instead of showing frustration with her I smiled. I told her that she was letting her colleague get away with murder. I warned her that she was letting him be lazy, pointed out that he lay back in his chair and let her do all the work. She looked over to him and he was doing just that – lying back in his chair, looking so relaxed he could have fallen asleep, and looking very amused that he’d been caught out; they both laughed. She realised the importance of him being involved and from that moment forth she was not only the most enthusiastic and motivated professional I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, but she was also a motivating force. She engaged her colleague in a way I could never have hoped to, and he started to improve by leaps and bounds.

As a trainer I am always aware of the responsibility of being a motivating force, and how dangerous the power of being ‘the one in charge’ can be. It’s not only important to hit the basics, like knowing your audience, focusing on skill gaps, and training your material, it’s also vital to ensure that you nurture the enthusiasm in the room, try to harness it to ensure that it becomes as contagious as possible, and to avoid, wherever possible, letting your determination to do the job kill it stone dead.

Have you experienced a similar situation where you came to a crossroads in your training? What happened? Do you think you handled it as well as you could have?

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