When Silence is Not Golden: A Story of Unexpected Leadership

I admit it. I fear the unexpected. And I still remember the time when the unexpected hit me flat in the face.

I was working for the Geek Squad at Best Buy at the time, and my supervisor asked if I’d like to be an instructor for the local Geek Squad Summer Academy event. This is a two-day program held annually in different locations of the world where agents from across the country gather and teach children in the area about various aspects of technology, from building computers to producing music.  I said, “sure,” and was sent off a week later to Oceanside, CA.

After orientation, I was assigned to teach the image manipulation class with another agent who looked like he went to the gym far too often. We went over the course and divided the lessons between the two of us before heading home to prepare for the next day of actual instruction.

On the first day of class, we stood in front of about 25 children, ranging from four- to thirteen-year-olds, and three other agents in the room who were acting as helpers. We all went around the room introducing ourselves and my co-instructor confidently started to talk about the first lesson. And that’s when things went terribly wrong.

As he pulled up the program on the computer for the first activity, he started fumbling his words and his voice lowered to a mutter as he moved from the instructor’s computer to the instructor materials. Then, he went silent. He looked like he had no idea what he was doing. I could see the children starting to fidget in their seats. They began to whisper, which grew to talking, and then yelling. The three helpers were desperately and unsuccessfully trying to calm them down.stage fright

Instantly, I was on my feet. An intense dread came over me as I realized I had no idea what I was going to say or do. I remained motionless with everyone’s eyes on me, including my co-instructor, for what felt uncomfortably longer than the 10 milliseconds that I stood there. And then, my brain suddenly started making connections and words flowed from my mouth. I had vaguely recalled that my co-instructor’s portion involved taking pictures, so I told everyone to grab their cameras. And with that, I ended up presenting the entire two days, making up lessons for portions that weren’t mine. The kids went home happy and skilled at image manipulation, and I went home relieved it was over and pleasantly surprised at myself.

That incident taught me a few things:

  1. Don’t doubt yourself. Doubt can be quite the speech-killer, so believe that you can overcome and succeed. The brain can make surprising connections under high pressure situations. Or, in my fellow instructor’s case, make no connections… and then, you just might put yourself and/or someone else in an awkward situation.
  2. Take everything as a learning experience. This mindset can help you get more from your best moments, as well as really understanding your worst ones.
  3. Just go with it. Never think that something is ruined if it doesn’t pan out the way you thought. Be creative. Sometimes, things can turn out better than how you’ve planned.

You never know when a moment of unexpected leadership will strike next, but these tips can help you turn things around and make the outcomes a bit more… expected.

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  • Comments (2)
  1. Great article. Fear is defeated by taking positive action…just do it!

    • David Bugea
    • August 8th, 2013

    I believe there is another lesson in there; while I didn’t witness your co-facilitator’s presentation (or lack thereof), it sounds as though he fell into a common trap: He was confident, but the confidence came from placing too much focus on what he was going to say as he prepared, and ignoring how he intended to inspire the audience to engage.

    It makes sense, because leadership is about having a laser-like focus on the needs and growth of others. And it sounds as though you picked up on this intuitively, by allowing the students to experiment with the equipment, rather than regurgitating how much you know (or think you know!).

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