Why Designing for Strengths Matters in Teams
And so I pulsed my way through this, practiced this every day, and then I brought it to the World Championship trials, the equivalent of the Olympic Trials in a non-olympic year. One year to the day of not making the team. I showed up there actually seven days in advance and the day I got there I got the flu, the real flu, not the fake flu. So, sick as a dog, I threw up for five days, I didn't skate at all for five days. Sixth day I got out there, I did three laps, threw up, got off again, and then the seventh day I was there, it was the first day of a three day meet with 13 races. And the first event was a 1000 meter time trial, not my forte, about a minute 40 second long race, to separate the weak form the chaf, they send 85 people home, keep the top 16. And I thought to myself, I'm gonna get sent home, this is gonna be so embarrassing. Here I am, the wild child, the non team player, doing my own thing and I'm gonna come and get my ass kicked at the trials and be sent home the first ...
day after not even skating but just one race. But I lined up on the line, what could I do? And it's run pursuit style, so you have one person with you. So you chase each other for nine laps or 1000 meters. And my pair skater was a guy who had been second in the last trials. So I thought, alright, he's really good at this. If he doesn't catch me, I'll probably make top 16, and I'll live to skate another day, and hopefully feel better tomorrow. That was my whole goal, was not get caught, and skate as tight a track as I possibly could. And so I leaned down, they shot the gun, I scrambled right at that first block, and stayed super tight, not skating very fast. And I skated a couple laps, just staying close to the blocks, not super fast, and that's when I noticed the first of several strange things. I started to catch my pair skater. And is coming backwards at me pretty quick all I could think was, man, he must be out of shape, cause I'm sick. So I caught him after four and a half laps. And they made him swing wide, and I went inside of him, and skated a couple more laps, and that's when I noticed a second strange thing. It had gotten quiet in the rink. Now, there's 400 people in a hockey rink. Kids running around, people sharpening skates, coaches yelling, it's noisy in there. And it was oddly quiet. And for the first time I sort of raised my awareness and looked up, and I noticed that people had gathered against the glass, there was faces pressed against the glass, and so for the first time I decided to look at the timer, they put down a sheet that shows your split. And they only gave you the tenth, and it said . and I was like well, 10.2, god, I hope I'm not going that slow. 9.2, that's too fast, I can't skate that fast, I don't know what that means, I'll just keep going. So I made it six and seven and eight laps and then one lap to go, they rang the bell and I came around and I finished the final lap and I coasted around the corner and as I came around the corner I could see this milling around in the coaches box and then my pseudo former coach, that had been my coach, had jumped out on the ice, and he runs out in the middle of the track and he's standing there with his stop watch, and I'm coming at him at 30 miles an hour so I'm trying to steer around him and he moves to stay in my way and so I had to skid to a stop and he's standing there holding the stop watch, and he looks angry and he says "Coyle, what the hell have you been doing?" And I was about to burst into tears. I was pretty sure I was just about to be sent home. Be embarrassed, humiliated. I mustered up some courage instead and I said, "I have been sick." And he smiles and he says, "No, you don't understand." Now, remember the margins in this sport. He said, "You just broke the US record by five seconds. "You just skated a full second faster "than the world record." Same me, same skates, same skin suit, same strengths, same weaknesses, better question, better answer. When you design for the things you're naturally talented at, you don't lead to small breakthroughs, it can lead to incredible, incredible release of all those talents that you have. So I went on to set the fastest time in the world that year at the 500 meters at the World Championships. I don't keep this little piece of paper with, alright, maybe I do. (laughter) And I set every US record back to back in that meet by pretty large margins. And, obviously went on to take home a medal. How to distill this down? I like the way Marcus Buckingham does it, so I'm just gonna use his words. If you haven't read Strengths Finder 2.0, or his other book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, pick one of those up, they're great. "Each person's greatest room for growth "is in the area of his or her greatest strength." You actually get better at the things you're already good at more than you get better at the things you're not so good at. Or, as I heard a quote recently, which I love, "What the world doesn't want from you "is to get slightly better at what you're mediocre at. "What the world wants from you "is to get amazing at something you're already great at." And, "You will excel only by maximizing you're strengths, "never by fixing your weaknesses." And finally, you actually can enjoy it. I started to smile and talk again after that. And went on to have a couple great years traveling the world and competing at the highest levels. This also really matters for teams. We talked before about the strength and weakness pairs. We went to the Olympic Games with four guys with very different strengths, thank God. So, there was me, the sprinter, there was Andy, sort of the, fast, strong guy of the team. There was Eric, the guy with great endurance, but not the fastest times, and there was Randy who could skate on any ice. And so we get to the Olympics, and normally, that year I had been the anchor. Because, with the fastest lap times, you want to skate your fastest guy last, it just makes sense. Except, we were on figure skating ice. So every night we'd swap with figure skating. Every other night it was speed skating, figure skating, speed skating, figure skating. We like a three quarter inch ice that's 17 degrees. They like three inch ice that's 32 degrees. So super soft, slow ice, and of course they win. We don't get any choice. So the figure skaters rule and we're skating on soft slow ice, which is very bad for somebody big and tall like me. I'm tall for my sport. Apollo I think is 5'6", 135 pounds, is what he raced at. I'm racing at 170 at six feet tall. It became pretty clear I wasn't gonna be the anchor after a few days on that ice. So we sat down the night before the gold medal round and the coach, Jack, he says, "You know what, Coyle, you're out. You're not anchoring." I'm like, "Yeah, I kinda figured." "Gable, you're not anchoring either, "the ice is gonna be terrible, "we need somebody with a strong finish. "Randy, you can skate on slush, "maybe we should finish with you." But, Eric, who was a crossover from long track, he wasn't a sprinter, but never got tired. "Eric, even though you have the slowest lap time, "we're gonna skate you for the gold medal anchor." So we skated nominally our slowest guy for the most important leg of the most important event of our lives. And thank God we did. Because, that boy does not get tired. And the ice was so terrible and it turned to slush and we're all worn out cause you go out seven times. It's not like one relay, you go out seven times. The anchor goes out eight. So we are in bronze medal position with two laps to go, the final exchange, Eric's coming out for his final exchange, we're all exhausted, I can barely stand up. I see him go out there, and he's actually got a smile on his face, that kid. And he goes out and he throws in four straight away strokes, passes into silver, stretches the gap there, he's got only two laps left, the Italians had a huge lead. He closes that lead by more than half, he had another half lap, we would've actually brought home a gold medal. Because, and we would've had maybe no medal, if we hadn't skated the right person for the right event at the right time. This is the same for teams. If you have people with diverse strengths and you don't put them in for the thing they're good at, it's a total waste of all that diversity. It's a total waste of all that experience. It's a total waste of all the skills, all those things. And in the name of fairness we're just gonna keep with the same rotation? No. You gotta put the right people in for the right job at the right time. Does that make sense? Okay, awesome.