Are You Ready and Willing To Share the Wonder of You?
“Rob, be your own man”
These were the profound words my Big Brother Brian Schwab said to me a little less than 40 years ago when I pledged Tau Epsilon Phi (TEP) at the University of Maryland.
At the time, his words didn’t mean a whole lot more to me than good wishes. Just something nice to say to a guy you didn’t know so well. I probably took them to mean something along the lines of being the first in line for beers or pizza slices, being proud to be in TEP, and doing the right thing. As it turns out, Brian’s words not only stayed with me, they’ve turned out to be quite meaningful.
I always looked at my time as a stockbroker as the best education I could have had in my working life. I joined the field in the mid ’90s when two things were very different: Not everyone had a computer (can you imagine?) and Do Not Call Lists weren’t in existence yet. So, while there are easier ways to do so, you could build a book of business cold calling absolute strangers. That was the path I followed. I called 300 to 400 people per day and on a good day, 1 or 2 bought something from me. It worked.
I never considered myself a particularly good salesperson. The imagery here goes to smooth-talking closers that you’d associate with movies like Glengarry Glen Ross. I didn’t fit that description. I was surprised when one day my sales manager asked me to present to the rest of the rookies. I said “Sure but why me? I just do the same thing every day. I call people about a mutual fund and I keep calling till they say yes.” He said “Exactly — You’re boring. Boring always wins in this business.” Looking back, his subtle message was “keep being who you’re being and doing what you’re doing.” In other words, be your own man.
When I eventually took this prospecting mentality into the nonprofit sector, it wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms. As I was to learn, nonprofits were often (not always but often) run by well-meaning and process-oriented individuals. Collaboration, proper protocol, and patience were highly valued. When it came to getting new prospects, it was often hurry up and wait (for a board connection, someone to call us, and on it went). So, there was me with my eagerness to research potential donors and start strategically reaching out. In other words, Get Into Action. I was often successful at helping shift the business development culture in this more proactive direction, but it wasn’t without tension. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Again, be your own man.
Today, as a coach, Brian’s somewhat unintentional message seems to have found its perfect home. I inevitably find that the individuals I coach could care less about where I learned coaching, what credentials I have and who I know and believe it or not, even what I know. What they value is connecting with someone who, like them, has strengths, weaknesses, oddities, good stuff, and yes, some less good stuff.
My greatest joy is when I see someone I work with thrive because I was able to bring them something that is uniquely me. This might include my playing the guitar for them, exposing them to my immaturity (I have a credenza full of toys I play with throughout the day), or quoting the corniest but most inspiring lines from one of my favorite Rocky movies. These are moments of true connection, joy, and humanity. And every once in a while, they even show the potential for transformation.
So, what’s the message here? Be like me? Absolutely, positively NO! Rather, the exact opposite. I’d suggest starting with the following:
Be who you are and want to be. Don’t be some sanitized version of you that a known expert (a.k.a. marketing guru, brand evangelist, etc) says you should be. Just be the most authentic, real, unflinching, and service-driven version of yourself.
The big question these days seems to be: What is your swim lane and should you stay in it? First off, of all the things this idea could get attached to, why swimming? I guess because those ropes with the floating things provide very clear lines. But anyway….My thinking: Create a swimlane that looks exactly like you want it to. It doesn’t need to be straight, narrow, market-friendly, or whatever everyone tells you it must be.
A few months ago, thanks to my terrific coach, Melissa Ford, I had an opportunity to spend time with the masterfully creative coach, author, and speaker Steve Chandler. I was struggling after a particularly rough conversation with a friend who relentlessly critiqued my book as it didn’t conform to several norms of writing. When I asked Steve how he would respond he said: Write the book you’d want to read. I love this advice for its power, simplicity, and incredible clarity.
I’d extend Steve’s advice to this: Be the coach you’d want to hire, the fundraiser you’d want to give to, and perhaps most importantly, Be the human being you’d want to spend your time with.