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Finding the Courage to Change

Life-Changing Stories That Inspire

Sometime around 1989 or ’90 I met a fellow named Winford. A bit older than me at the time—he in his early- to mid-60s, I in my mid-30s—he was a participant in The Leadership Challenge® Workshop I was conducting for leaders at AT&T.

Winford was a kind and easy-going man. Clearly on the tail end of his AT&T career, I remember him being very friendly and quite willing to share. I also remember him frequently coming up to me to offer support for the program and the value of The Five Practices—almost in a grandfatherly way. Yet I got the impression that he didn’t see himself doing much with them given where he was in his career. Still, throughout that first day of the workshop he often would seek me out in private, and I enjoyed our conversations.

Then on the afternoon of Day 3 of our session, Winford changed. We were on the ropes course in Boulder Creek, CA and he was staring up at the Pamper Pole with that haunting trapeze reminding him of what real fear felt like. He immediately opted out (which, of course, was fine), using the excuse of being too old to do that kind of thing. But as I continued to watch him and talk with him, I noticed he was no longer that relaxed, easy-going gentleman. He had removed himself slightly from the group and was pacing back-and-forth. As I checked in with him, I understood why he was nervous and pacing. He told me that he so wanted to try it, but was simply terrified. His pacing and our conversation about the emotional competition between his fear and desire continued. As others went up and challenged themselves, I listened as he kept sharing what the voices in his head were telling him about why he could and should not do this. It was a tortuous afternoon for Winford—especially when he clipped in and started up the pole.

Winford completed his jump to great fanfare and relief for him, I am sure. And that evening many celebrated his accomplishment throughout our last evening dinner and social time together. But he seemed different to me—still outwardly friendly but much more subdued. Then I noticed he made it an early night, as he was not around too long after dinner. I knew how emotional the day had been for him, and could only imagine how exhausted it must have left him.

Before our final session began Friday morning, Winford cornered me as I was setting things up. He looked at me, with a very serious look on his face, and said, “I did something last night after dinner. I called my daughter.” After a slight pause, he said, “I have not spoken to her for nearly 15 years. But last night I called her and said, “It’s your dad, and I love you.””

Winford described how he and his daughter had a major falling out and had written each other off, how last night they had talked for well over two hours. As the enormity of this moment set upon me, I only heard bits and pieces. However, I have never forgotten his next words, even 25 years later, when he said,

“When I jumped off that pole yesterday, I knew I could do almost anything. That gave me the courage to do the one thing I had not been able to do for way too long: to reach out to my daughter.”

We looked at each other and nodded our heads in an unspoken yet very clear understanding of what had taken place for him during the past few days.

Unfortunately, I never saw Winford again. But I will never, ever forget how dramatically The Leadership Challenge® changed his life. I will also never forget my own unexpected realization of how much more—beyond the objectives and content—people take from this experience.

To say The Leadership Challenge has been life-changing (or life-saving) for some is not a gross overstatement. In addition to Winford, I am a personal witness to countless numbers of others who have decided to pursue new careers, revitalize their personal lives, attack the fear of a big, unknown project at work, or to fundamentally decide to become a different and better person. I know firsthand, the power for change that The Leadership Challenge inspires.


Steve Coats,
Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, is managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates, a leadership development education and consulting firm. For over 25 years, Steve has taught, coached, and consulted with executives and all levels of managers around the world in leadership development, team development, personal growth, change, and business strategy. Steve can be reached at stevec@i-lead.com.

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