Once you label something, your mind is closed. It is what you call it.
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As a marketer, we are asked to make smart investments without all the information. The ever-increasing pace of industry, competitive pressures and rising investor and customer expectations are having their effect. To remain at the top of our game, we must demonstrate a bias for action and the ability to quickly pivot and learn. We are often asked to be change agents, which implies some conflict with internal and external stakeholders, or even our own bosses. We want to make smart decisions. We want to make a difference. We want to be confident and gain the confidence of others. How do we accomplish that? I believe the answer is in being fearless.
The word “fearless,” is often used to synonymously with fear-free. “He ran fearlessly into the burning building to save the child,” the newspaper will report of the local hero. “She has a fearless brush stroke,” they will tell of an artist’s boldness. “He fearlessly changed the business model from traditional transactions to a pay-as-you-go service business,” magazines will report. “Her fearless investments in the new market segment put her ahead of her competition,” followers will admire. "We fearlessly moved our business to the cloud, leading our industry in digital transformation," the annual report will boast. But any of these people will tell you that they have doubts. They were not guaranteed success. There is not a sub-species with superhuman abilities not to feel anxiety (although, in fairness, sometimes when I see the professional snowboarders flipping through the half-pipe or surfers attacking a crashing wave, I might be convinced otherwise). But for the rest of us mere mortals, it isn't about being fear-free, but rather they are overcoming their fears.
What does it mean to be fearless in your business and how can fearlessness be cultivated?
1. It is a mindset change
The answer might be hidden in the word itself. The term “less” is a relative word. It implies that it is less when compared to something else. I am sure you can sting your eyes with “tearless” shampoo, but it is meant to imply a relative safety to other products on the market. We use words like seamless, matchless, baseless, careless, effortless, heartless, motionless, priceless, and thankless as if they are absolutes, but they are really descriptions of relation. You can be seemingly tireless, but still get tired. So, being fearless is to fear less than you did before when faced with uncertainty. That is a choice that you make each day. In marketing, we may shift investment from traditional advertising channels or events to new digital initiatives or approaches. We may change our go-to-market structures, introduce new solutions, target new markets, go after new types of customers. All of these can be seen as fearless moves in hindsight, but if we live in the moment and in the data fearing less, we can improve our chances of success, even when we face internal opposition or hesitancy, without taking on unnecessary risk.
2. It requires practice
Extreme sports athletes seem fearless, but they train for years, risking life and limb, to build up the skills and stamina to wow us in prime time. They overcame their fear one run at a time and practice managing their mind along with their bodies. Entrepreneurs are known for their fearlessness, but that was also trained with small bets and experimentation throughout their lives.
In my experience, confidence is not the opposite of fear: it is action. Fear can be paralyzing, especially when combined with a vivid imagination, but the fearless face it down, give it a name, and move forward. Not recklessly, but with calculated intention, identifying and mitigating risks. To be fearless is just to strive to fear less than you did the day before and you do that with action. Before long, you are accomplishing things never before possible and bringing others along with you on the journey.
3. It builds confidence
I recently heard Beau Lotto, the neuroscientist whose TED talk has generated over 5 million views, say that “courage is more important than confidence.” The best leaders are right a lot of the time and are worth betting on, but more importantly, they have a bias for action. You only have confidence after someone had courage and proved it could be done. Hopefully, of course, that someone is you and you can reap the early mover advantages. Others see the success and what is possible and may live a bit more fearlessly as well.
4. It changes your priorities
You can be 100% correct about things that happened in the past (like last week's lottery numbers), but since we live our lives looking forward, we do not have that luxury. Quite the opposite. In today’s changing landscape, the tactics and strategies that worked in the past might as well be guaranteed not to work in the future. Be skeptical of anyone whose marketing plan, marketing metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are not changing over time. That is something to be truly afraid of. To fear less means to learn more and that is bound to change what you are measuring and where you are aiming your attention and resources.
5. It changes the way you work on a daily basis
Sometimes as leaders we see fearlessness demonstrated in bold business strategies or big M&A investments, but not all fearlessness happens in the boardroom at scale. It is seen in the conversations we have that are awkward or difficult. The coaching conversations with a struggling employee. The negotiations with stakeholders for input or support. The fierce disagreements that result in a strong commitment to the decisions, whether they aligned with your ideal or not. This is where the strength of our backbones are tested. Where our fearlessness and our commitment to strategy is demonstrated. This is where we build our confidence, reveal our new priorities and practice our new mindset.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
You pray for a sign. Sometimes this is the sign you get.
You are one turn closer to where you need to be.
To solve the problem, you must first define it. And your first question probably isn’t the right one to ask.
I recently heard Beau Lotto, the neuroscientist whose TED talk on illusions has generated over 5 million views, speak at a conference* during which he said:
“courage is more important than confidence”
As I have been reflecting on this in my own life and work, including the current search for my next career step, I think he is right. If you are given the choice to be confident or courageous, you should always choose courage.
Confidence is believing you can. Courage is knowing that you might fail, but doing it anyway.
Confidence’s posture is upright, which makes it fragile. Confidence can’t fail. Courage leans into the wind, gets up when it falls down, and is more resilient.
Confidence is proud and can push others away. Courage is vulnerable and draws others in.
Confidence can be external facing, seeking the approval of others. Some acts of courage are public and heroic, but many are private and quiet. Doing the right thing, even when it is hard and no one is looking.
Confidence is complete and closed off to learning new things. Courage requires it.
Confidence requires prior relevant experience (otherwise it starts slipping into the danger zone of “over confidence”). Courage can forge it’s own path.
Confidence is a feeling. Courage is a decision to act.
In your own life, in your family, in your business, and in our communities, how can we put our personal and societal pressure for confidence aside, and instead cultivate more courage?
*The conference was TIDE (Technology, Innovation, Design, and Experience) produced by Avixa in conjunction with the InfoComm show. Amazing event. You should go!
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.
“Once you get beyond tokenism, diversity changes the chemistry and effectiveness of a board.” – Joseph Evans, State Bank and Trust
For more on the importance of diversity, read "Fighting for Diversity: from the room where it happens."
Join me at the OnBoard breakfast on June 13th to honor the inductees into the hall of fame and to celebrate the progress that has been made to put more diversity on corporate boards in Georgia.
Several years ago, my young daughter was helping me organize my work office after a move down the hall. The stacks of business books that I had accumulated over the years (and referred to periodically and wanted to keep handy) promised us a very long evening. Then I considered explaining to her how to organize them, by theme or if we should painstakingly alphabetize them. It occurred to us that the easiest (and dare I say, the fastest) way would be to organize them by spine color in rainbow series. Red book covers lead to orange, then yellow, green, blue, purple, and then white and, finally, black. It took only a few minutes to organize the books this way and it had a few surprising and pleasant consequences.
It turned the practical into art: I can’t tell you how many people have walked into my office and commented on my books. “Did you organize your books by color?” they would ask as they smiled. This library of business books became an art installation which people wanted to talk about. It really does look great and brings a smile to my face, and to office guests, every time. Books became a conversation piece and helped my guests and colleagues get to know me better, not just because of the titles on the shelf, but how they were arranged. And I can tell you that I really like authors who write red books and orange books are trending.
It made things easier to find: Come to find out, I can rarely remember the exact title or the name of the author, but 9 times out of 10 I can picture a book’s cover. This narrows the search considerably and within a few seconds I have the volume in hand. I know others’ might not have this kind of visual memory, but I suspect many of us do. Forget the Dewey Decimal System, this is the hue-ey decimal system (I couldn’t resist). This is especially useful as I have recently relocated across the country to Atlanta, and found it was easy (and fun) to set up my home office for maximum productivity using this now familiar system.
It sparked my imagination: As art often does, my book arrangement sparked new ideas. I am working now on a system to organize my Outlook calendar to align appointments, meetings, and blocked time to my goals using color cues. For me, new business development work is green, one big project is yellow, family priorities are purple, and, naturally, any time spent building out my new network in Atlanta is red (the ubiquitous color of the Falcons, Hawks, Atlanta United, UGA, GSU, and classic Atlanta brands like Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, and newcomer, Honeywell…need I go on?). Perhaps for the freelancer or consultant reading this article any paid “billable hour” work is blue and any office work is orange. You can do this manually or using conditional formatting, it can be done auto-magically as you create or accept calendar entries. You can use a more sophisticated time or task tracking tool (like a CRM) for even more insights. Turning my calendar into a visual dashboard of how I am spending my time is generating new insights and changing my behavior. The adage is true that you manage what you measure. Try it yourself and at a glance, you can see if you are investing your time – your most precious and limited commodity – fully to your goals and priorities.
Now you might be asking a different question: why do I hold on to these physical books in a world of instant Internet searches, ebook readers, and, frankly, when often the Harvard Business Review synopsis of the book is better than the long form? It is because I know it works for me. I like books. I dog-ear the pages and write in the margins. Sure, I sometimes snap quotes into Evernote for future blog posts, but in the meantime, I like them stacked on my night stand and standing in a colorful array in my office.
And, I hope that one day when I write my New York Times best seller, you will all still have bookshelves, maybe even sorted by color, and will appreciate the hue of the book jacket I chose.
According to extensive research into success and performance, each one of us approaches our work with a unique formula. When we are at our best, we tap into some natural talents, abilities, or experiences that we have honed. In his book, StrengthFinders, Tom Rath uses Gardner's research and outlines 34 themes or traits that show up in different combinations in these success recipes.
I recently took mine again and was amazed at the consistency from previous times I have taken the assessments under different circumstances, in different cities, and for different purposes. It seems that each of us have a "go to" recipe that becomes our signature dish.
Mine are Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Activator, and WOO (winning others over). This time Communication made it back onto the list as well.
So, what do these mean?
For me, they combine to create this recipe.
I see the big picture. I know how to make it better. I am positive it will work.
How soon can we start? Who's with me?
When I first articulated this, a long-time colleague joked that this was the pattern of most of the emails she received from me. I suspect she was right.
Those familiar with the assessments know that one of my themes is in the Strategic Thinking category, one is in Relationship Building, and three are in Influencing. Using my kitchen analogy, this represents my balance of salty and sweet. The Strategic and Maximizer seek out data, insight, and analysis until actionable patterns begin to emerge. Those patterns build confidence with Positivity and momentum with Activator. Activator also indicates my comfort with (and, frankly, need for) experimentation. We often can only start with a minimum viable offering or a test, but that then informs our strategy and our confidence for further investments. And throughout, with communication and influence, I am "Winning Others Over" (WOO). Creating the motivation to bring customers or colleagues in alignment with the new vision.
I can point to dozens and dozens of examples in my career where my recipe delivered great results. It is the common theme up and down my resume. Not everyone would have approached the problems or situations in the same way, and in fact, those perspectives are critical for strategic planning and action (and must be actively sought out, especially from those who are quiet in group settings or need more time for analysis). But underlying the successes is a creativity, energy, and conviction that prompts people to action and helps the business achieve more than it thought it could. It's my winning formula. It's my signature dish.
What is yours? I am curious to know what others have found in their StrengthsFinders assessments and how they are utilizing it to play more to their strengths every day.
Next week, I am attending a workshop where this and other assessments will combine to create a clearer picture of purpose and vision. For someone who likes to see the big picture and collaborate towards making things better, this is perfect. It just can't come soon enough.
“You can’t have a good day with a bad attitude, and you can’t have a bad day with good attitude.” – Brian Kutchma
For more on the importance of a good attitude, read From the Inside Out: What To Do When the Air Gets Dense.
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” – Woodrow Wilson