Focus on Your Other Hand

user Darren Gold
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In the last year, as leaders have been navigating unprecedented levels of uncertainty and anxiety, our clients have expressed how valuable their coaching work has been. Times of misfortune require us to ask different questions. Most leaders get stuck relying on the old patterns that have gotten them to where they are today. Success, especially during periods of intense disruption, requires working on your “non-dominant hand” and it’s one of the most valuable things a coach can support you on. One of my favorite Kobe Bryant memories perfectly illustrates this point.

It was December 1999, Kobe’s fourth season in the NBA, and the Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Portland Trailblazers in a regular-season home game. Living in Los Angeles at the time, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to attend. Normally, this would have been a relatively uneventful game, but for the fact that it was Kobe’s first home game back from an injury that kept him sidelined for the first five weeks of the season. He had broken his right hand – his shooting hand – in a pre-season game. Already a superstar, the injury was a huge blow to fans and, of course, to Kobe himself. Most professional athletes face injuries like this, some much worse. A fifteen-game absence even early in an NBA career, while disappointing, is not the end of the world. But there’s more to this story.

Like so many times in a life that ended way too early, Kobe did something exceptional. He understood the difference between what was in his control and what wasn’t. Instead of complaining and resigning himself to a lost opportunity, for six days a week and six hours a day, Kobe focused on one thing and one thing only. His left hand. He shot, passed, and dribbled with nothing but his left hand. Rumor had it that he was determined to not just develop the best non-dominant hand in the league but to be better with his left hand than even players who were naturally left-handed.

When he took the court that evening in December 1999, Kobe shocked everyone in attendance. He not only took his first few shots left-handed (if I remember correctly, he made them), but he played much of the game seamlessly using both his right and left hands. It was his statement to the league – one he would repeatedly make – that he wouldn’t allow his injuries to be a setback. Rather, he would use them to become even stronger. At the young age of twenty-one, Kobe Bryant saw the gift in his misfortune. He knew that his injury presented a once-in-a-career opportunity to focus on developing a skill that he may never have had the chance to build. He focused on what was in his control. And he took action. Powerfully.

The last year has not been the year any of us had hoped for. Now that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, we all have an opportunity to reflect on how this ‘setback’ has created opportunities for us to become even stronger. Where have you exercised your non-dominant hand? How will that serve you as you lead through this transition?  

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