As Dave Chappelle taught us, sometimes keeping it real can go wrong. But we don’t all have to be like Vernon Franklin. Keeping it real can pay off, too.
When I was 25 years old and three years into my corporate career, I found myself invited to speak with the top brass at the company. Apparently, my efforts to tell anyone who would listen my plan for engaging this “Millennial” market wasn’t falling on deaf ears. And so here I was, staring across the table at the people signing my paycheck (literally), telling them where I thought we needed to make some drastic changes. As Dave Chappelle would say, I kept it very real.
That moment undoubtedly changed the course of my life. As it turned out, they liked my ideas and I was charged with bringing those ideas to life for the next two and half years. From there I went on to various leadership roles in the organization, but I always look back at this time as a truly defining learning opportunity in life. Two things in particular stick out:
1. Don’t be afraid to call the baby ugly… respectfully.
I’ve written in the past about how we need more kindness with candor in our conversations. Unfortunately, we’re often picking one or the other out of fear for calling someone’s baby ugly.
If you haven’t heard the phrase before, it’s referring to the suggestion you shouldn’t talk negatively about someone’s ideas or pet projects, particularly someone in a higher pay grade. In life, you wouldn’t call someone’s baby ugly*. The same rules apply in business.
The reality is no individual is incapable of a bad idea. Executives can make mistakes too. And if you’re always afraid to speak up out of fear for how someone will react to negative feedback, then chances are you’re looking at a dead end to start with. The best leaders want someone to challenge their thinking and the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the farther removed you get from people willing to challenge your thinking. Be the person willing to challenge and push ideas to greater heights. As long as you balance kindness with candor, you’ll become a trusted advisor and someone people will respect for their opinion.
2. Answer the “If We Don’t” Question
When pushing new ideas or change in organizations, we often ask questions like, “What if we do this?” For example, if we implement this new program, what impacts will it have for our customers and employees? Those are necessary questions to ask, but often we lean so heavily in this direction we forget to ask the equally or more important question.
“What if we don’t?”
We’re programmed to think of risks associated with decisions, but it’s another thing to think of the risks associated with inaction or the risks of keeping it status quo. Using the same example above, instead of focusing on the impacts of a new program, focus on the risks if you don’t implement the change. Switching the conversation to one about “if we don’t,” helps ensure you’re not blinded by the fear of unrealized risks.
Commit to keeping it real and don’t forget to calculate the risk of inaction.
*Maybe you would call someone’s actual baby ugly. Personally, I think that’s a bad strategy. I mean, they’re babies. Babies = cute. And they can’t fight back so calling them ugly is a little unfair. Stop being a bully.