How My Stutter Made Me a Better Communicator and a Better Leader


As a child I developed a profound stutter. It got progressively worse in my middle school years. It was really debilitating. It was hard to get a sentence out without stuttering. I began to avoid S’s, F’s, T’s, R’s, and W’s when speaking. Therefore you see the problem. There wasn’t much I was confident in speaking to anyone so I tried my best not to. I had years of speech therapy and in the end it had a lot to do with how I breathe; or more accurately how I don’t remember to breathe. I would sometimes forget to breathe when speaking. But even when I got a better handle on my breathing the problem did not completely disappear.

My stutter is something I will always have. I will always struggle with those same letters when speaking. But in the midst of my speech issue I have enjoyed incredible success and incredible support from every team I have ever led or been a part of.

Here are some ways in which my stutter has made me a better communicator and leader:

  1. My stutter has made me more acutely aware of where other people struggle and given me a platform to coach them through their tough spots. I have learned we all have something that we struggle with, something that impedes us from accomplishing everything we want to, or experiencing the joy we were meant to have in doing the work we were made to do.
  2. My stutter has made me compassionate, sensitive, and stronger. I am a better leader because I have learned not to take success for granted. I am continuing to learn that I am responsible to encourage those in my direct path and those on the fringes. I have learned that no matter how organized, engaged, adept, passionate, and well-meaning I am, I will struggle. And so will you. No matter how much you think you have it together. You have something that you will always struggle with and can use that experience to help others.
  3. I prepare better as a result of my stutter. I research more. I communicate more emotionally. I can cut to the chase pretty quickly. Words are important to me and I choose them wisely. I also read body language very well and my intuition gives me an edge.
  4. I learned how to create opportunities for others as a result of the incredible opportunities I have been given.

I wish I could say I am comfortable with all of this. I am not. I wish I could say I didn’t still stutter occasionally, but I do. I wish it was easier to get up and speak to a big group of people after years of practicing hard but It isn’t. However there’s nothing I enjoy more than communicating with a group and facilitating learning and change.

But those struggles make me a better leader and a better communicator. So embrace whatever it is that you wish you could change about yourself. Channel it to make yourself better. Use what you struggle with to help someone else. Don’t believe the lie that you’ll never be good enough, smart enough, or popular enough. Don’t believe the lie that you can’t be successful. Because you can. And are.

Lastly don’t write off the kid picked last for the kickball game. You never know what he might grow up and accomplish.

Published by

Bobby Shaw

I am a former restaurant company executive with a passion for developing existing and future leaders to achieve high standards. I love helping organizations develop strong people cultures with an emphasis on leadership development that result in top-notch operations and better business results. I have over 30 years in the restaurant business in all facets of operations, from my start at McDonald's in the grill area in 1984 to overseeing 200+ restaurants with Chipotle Mexican Grill from 2002-2012 to leading Freebirds World Burrito's resurgence from 2013-2016 to working with the Salad and Go restaurant startup as CEO in 2016/2017. My real world experience transcends the typical operations background with a focus in leadership development and coaching. At the core of my background and experience, I believe that how leaders get results is just as important as getting them, and what got them where they are, won't necessarily get them where they want to go. I work closely with individual leaders and companies to improve their results through understanding how their strengths impact the overall results. My goal is to help business leaders and companies learn how to leverage the strengths of their employees by understanding their strengths and what they’re good at, and using that knowledge to positively impact their entire organization.

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