Driving to Bristol over the weekend started listening to an episode of Dairy of a CEO by Steve Bartlett where he mentioned talking with Kobe Bryant’s and Michael Jordan’s coach Tim Grover. Steve recalls the simple lesson Tim gave him on how we all have and should use Lightside/Darkside energy.
Grover explained that during our younger years, some of the most challenging and difficult experiences we might have had, often go on to create our strengths, our unique talents. The Lightside. Triumph from the difficulty. However, he also believes this history can create complex human beings that have a Darkside. This Darkside energy isn’t bad or evil. Actually, it keeps us going when things are tough. More importantly it can be harnessed for high performance.
This observation resonated with me from my school days. I’m not really interested in telling you a sob story. You see I absolutely adored school. I loved every day; the teachers, the lessons, the learning. But I didn’t have real friends. I had a small group of what I thought were friends. It turned out, they were not really my friends. They often laughed at me (not with me), picked on me and made me cry in lessons. They only liked me when I was doing something for them.
Back then we didn’t call it bullying, we didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t anything serious, it was only funny small things. I was picked on. And in the cold hard light of day, I knew deep down I didn’t really belong in their group.
As a protective measure (to try to stop crying in class) I developed the behavior of working really really hard. I worked and worked, constantly studying. I put in all the effort to be the best I could be, to prove to others I could be good enough. Believing I wasn’t the most intelligent person in the room, I thought if I worked the hardest, I’d get through and not embarrass myself by being ‘thick’, not knowing the answers. I most importantly could then stop crying.
My perpetuity to learn new things now is down to this early experience. Down to me building a habit of working hard. My excitement about learning more, doing more, putting in extra effort is a skill, it’s a strength.
I might not be the most intellectual, but my school days experiences have given me the ability to understand if I study it long enough and ask the right questions, I can learn anything. The confidence this habit gives is my Lightside. I know if I put my mind to it I can do anything. I’ve said for years that I am grateful for my school day experiences.
I hadn’t until now though thought too seriously about how this might have created my Darkside.
I can sometimes still think I am not good enough. That I might not be as clever as others in the room. This focus on me, often means I am focusing on the wrong thing. When integrating and collaborating with others, rather than doubting myself I should be focusing on what other people bring to the team. I am a person who finds it difficult to ask for help because I see it is a sign that people might figure out, I am not clever enough/not good enough to be in the group.
The phrase the Darkside has been portrayed as evil in modern life. (I am sure you keep thinking of Star Wars when I use the phrase.) Grover has previously said It’s only evil if you don’t recognize it. If you allow it to become destructive or use it as an excuse. If you harness it, it can take you to places you can’t imagine.
He’s right. It’s this very Darkside that keeps me going, keeps me pushing for greater knowledge. It’s the thing that keeps me striving to be the best, to be better.
As leaders, we need to recognize both our Lightside and Darkside of our personality and skills. Winning requires us to use it all. We need to use both to improve our performance and the performance of those people around us.
It’s our job to remind others to firstly turn the negatives into strengths. Then, let’s acknowledge that sometimes our darkside can give us the edge. Can push us that extra 1% to be the best. We need to help our teams face the fear and feel safe in pushing that little bit extra.
You can hear Tim talk more about the Darkside in this video.