When I was a kid I HAD to be first. I was the oldest of four brothers and they were my competition. And maybe BECAUSE I was the oldest, I HAD to be first. First to eat my dinner. First to answer mum’s question. First to get to the car so I could grab the best seat. First in running races. Always first.
I also had to be the best. Best behaved so I would win the £5 prize we got on holiday for the Best Behaved Boy. Best at exams. Best at playing football, cricket, rugby. Always the best.
I must have been such a pain in the arse. In fact, I know I was a pain in the arse because my wonderful brothers are quite happy to remind me that I was a pain in the arse now that we are all in our 40’s.
This competitive spirit may have served me well as an adult on occasion. It gave me a drive and a will to succeed. I became an actor and I strove to be the best actor. I wasn’t doing too badly either until it was pointed out to me at Drama School that I lacked any vulnerability. “Vulnerability?” I thought. “What do you mean vulnerability?!!!!” I couldn’t even grasp the concept let alone SHOW any. Inherently, everything in me screamed “Be a winner!!!” “Don’t show any weakness!!!” “You HAVE to be first!!!!” Unsurprisingly my acting career floundered.
Nowadays my work allows me to meet new people every single day at all levels. Without a shadow of a doubt, the best people I have worked with have been the ones who show humility, modesty and vulnerability. Interestingly they are not always the leaders, though I suspect they soon will be. They may not know this but I have learned far more from them than they have learned from me. And the biggest thing I learned from them is that you don’t have to lose your drive or passion to be vulnerable. It is not a case of swapping one thing for another. “Dan” IS a leader who I help to write and perform keynote speeches. He HAS a drive and, at times, an almost childlike passion for new ideas and creativity. And he lays himself bare. Totally. He is happy to talk about successes but equally he is happy to talk about his failures, his flaws and his shortcomings. “I need you Jon, I’m not clever enough to structure this paragraph so that it delivers what I want it to.” Dan is hugely intelligent, just not at everything. Just before I meet him I always worry “can I REALLY help this guy today? He is brilliant at what he does. Does he know I am basically just an ex-actor?” But my worries are always dispelled within ten minutes as he asks me all about MY family, MY work and asks me how my youngest got on at that football match he was going to play which I’d just briefly mentioned the last time we met 3 months ago! He is fascinated by me. Not because I am fascinating but because he is fascinated by everyone he talks to. He is always interested before being interesting. Not surprisingly his 1,500 staff love him.
Like Father, not like Son
Discovering what “vulnerability” means has been the single biggest influencer on my career and the progress of Speak The Speech. I surround myself with people who are much cleverer than me and who can help me answer those “I don’t know” questions. I am still competitive but luckily enough I am not good enough at anything these days to win all the time and I have had to learn how to lose! I now have a 7-year-old son who is the archetypal “Chip off the old block”. He HAS to be first, he HAS to beat his sister and brother and he gets very upset if he doesn’t. Daddy is doing his very best to keep this in check but I guess he will probably need to learn it for himself as I did!