The clarity and the confidence that thinking and acting strategically bring us can deliver the inspiration, conviction and a compelling force that we cannot ignore or deny. This is a much more reliable source of energy for speaking up, sharing our opinion or driving change than looking for quick-fix ways and techniques to be courageous, confident or brave.
And there’s a lot of talk at the moment about being courageous, being confident, being brave.
Sometimes, yes, you need to be brave… Like when you’ve done all you can to prepare for this important moment and it still feels scary to stand up or jump off.
But if I’m honest, I find talk about being brave, confident or finding courage a little irksome because telling someone to be brave doesn’t make the fear or anxiety go away. There is no transformation. There’s just more pressure to be someone we don’t feel like we are, and, whoop, out comes the imposter syndrome. “Be brave” can be like telling someone to go from zero to a hundred without context or experience. Why? How does that make any sense? Why put yourself through such gruelling stress and pressure?
Less sexy, more useful
While it sounds less sexy, less hero-cape-like, the more effective advice is to do the preparation which is to think and act strategically. With some help, most of us can do this and, once we’ve got clarity and a position backed up by some robust and stress-tested thinking, being brave or courageous becomes mostly irrelevant.
Being strategic requires deep thinking, research, other perspectives, conversations with peers, analysis, understanding your different audiences, logical processing, experimentation, and testing. What do all these have in common? Data and evidence (so relatively impartial sources) and outside-ness (so moving the spotlight away from ourselves and onto the issue).
Doesn’t that feel like we’re on more solid ground? Doesn’t that feel like a relief?
Telling someone to be brave or courageous makes them the focus of an exercise; it puts the spotlight completely on them. Some of us are okay with that but most of us are not. And if our mental health trends are anything to go by, we might be a lot healthier and happier with less spotlighting, fame chasing, or comparing ourselves with seemingly successful peers.
Being brave is a massive source of anxiety and comes with oodles of negative self-talk, self-doubt and limiting excuses.
From personal experience, I am of the opinion that an excessive amount of introversion and self-spotlighting can send us down an existential rabbit warren akin to trying to determine the meaning of life. If there are demons to slay, then a therapist can be the best investment in yourself.
But if mustering up courage to create change, to influence or to spearhead a new industry is where you’re at, then it’s time to take yourself seriously and invest in some strategy work on yourself.
Make a plan to do the strategy work
Just as you would a plan for your team or a client. Make a plan with timelines, metrics, dependencies and the resources you need.
It can be a year-long plan or a 3-month plan. Your metrics might be determining and testing 3 key messages you need to convey to your audiences, or some critical presentations delivered. Your dependencies may be about carving out time and protecting it to do the tasks you’ve identified. Your resources might people or platforms or opportunities you need to determine, test and deliver your messages.
The point of view
Your point of view is the position and approach that you share with people to make the case for doing something a certain way. And you need to speak to your audience in a way that makes it easy for them to understand and embrace, to say ‘Yes’ to.
Your point of view consists of what you believe and why, how your approach has an impact, and why your recommendations are mission critical.
Working out your point of view might come to sound something like, “My recommendation is that we do X because it delivers the benefits of A and B, and allows us to do M and N better.”
The how, the tools and the case studies are the details that you use to back up your point of view.
Tease out your point of view
Our point of view is shaped by our experiences and our personal philosophy on how things should be — how we like to make sense of the world.
We’re usually driven to do things a certain way or motivated to engage with certain types of work because that approach or topic speaks to us and allows us to honour our personal values. Map out your choices over recent months and years, the forks in the road, and the big decisions you’ve made — even the hard ones and the ones that didn’t work out.
What patterns can you notice? What did you avoid? What hurts to think about? What did you learn about yourself through those experiences? What’s true? What narrative have you made up to protect yourself? Where did you let yourself down? Where did you take responsibility? Where did you not? Where did things go wrong? Where did things go right?
And through all of that, what are the big messages coming through loud and clear about you and your approach?
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Play your point of view out into all possible audiences and scenarios
Take your key messages and stress-test them for objections from all possible audiences — your peers, your team, your boss, the board, your customers — and in all the scenarios you can think of — in team meetings, one-to-ones, strategic or decision-making meetings, and in client conversations.
How are your messages landing? Are some parts of your messages more relevant than others in those scenarios? Which bits need more depth for that audience? Which need alternative ways of explaining things?
If you can do this reflective and thinking work in your own head, then great. If not, work with a professional certified coach — we’re trained to be awesome thinking and sparring partners.
Socialise it, experiment with it, refine it
All this thinking, mapping and stress-testing is great in private but there’s only one route to knowing whether what’s in your head works, that the messages land strong, and that you haven’t overlooked some key considerations.
So, you need to socialise it by talking to people about your point of view and inviting them to explore with you or share their perspectives. You need to experiment with different ways of saying the same thing or different groups of people.
After deep listening and asking more questions, take that data — even the disagreements and contradictory and difficult ones — and check if they influence or change your point of view in some way or to some degree.
Be willing to acknowledge the difficult thoughts, the complexity and the tension on your point of view. Don’t let someone else use them to throw you off-guard. Know them and establish your approach to responding to them just like great negotiators do.
Don’t stop customising and refining your point of view
We’re never done with our point of view. With growth mindsets, everything is evolving. Our position can change and shift in nuanced or radical ways as we experience more of life and others.
And as we reach beyond our first wave of audiences, we come across new audiences and they show us something else or new perspectives. Stay open to them and evolve your point of view.
Most importantly, be strategic.
Developing your point of view generates its own energy and momentum — it fuels a fire in your belly. A compelling point of view is like going from being blind to now seeing the world in full colour — once you see things, you can’t unsee them. You can’t deny the beauty or the injustice or the better possibilities. Let that energy drive you towards sharing your point of view with the world.