I met Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell, when I gave a keynote last month at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy (a convening of C-suite leaders throughout the public relations industry). She has a great story, building essentially a one-woman communications practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas, into one of the top 10 fastest-growing public relations companies in the world (and winning all kinds of industry kudos along the way). She’s also recently released her first book, Leading Through the Turn–a leadership book that combines lessons learned from her passion for motorcycles with her conviction that real professional success and significance has to be about the journey as much as the destination.
That’s an idea that gets traction in personal growth circles, but not so much in the business world where crossing the finish line fast is often revered above all else. Elise found a voice with an alternative view, and had both the passion and conviction to speak her truth.
Any organization, leader or professional who wants to find an authentic and inspiring voice needs to do the very same thing. It’s about aligning your Why (the passion that motivates and fuels your journey) with your What (the conviction that shapes meaningful, destination-oriented action). When you do that, what you say will always convey the courage of your convictions—and your communications will carry the kind of heart and determination that gets heard. Even the more provocative things you have to say will be received differently because they’re grounded in authenticity. Remember this:
- If you have the courage of your convictions, you’ll find the confidence to say what you believe is right–even though other people may not agree or approve
- If you have the courage of your convictions, you’ll become brave enough to do what you feel is right—despite any external pressure for your to act differently
You’ve got to get in touch with both your passion and your position to do this, though. Having the courage of your convictions is really about bringing both the head and the heart into play, and that’s a hard to ignore combination because it leverages both feelings/emotions and thoughts/beliefs. Remember that passion is a strongly held feeling of enthusiasm or excitement that brings you alive for others. Conviction is a strongly held thought or belief that lends credibility to your stance. Enjoying the journey and reaching your destination usually doesn’t happen if you don’t have both. Why?
- Passion without conviction can be disempowering–generating a lot of excitement without anything actually happening. Passion without conviction can actually be baseless, overly zealous, shrill (and even dangerous if it’s blind).
- Conviction without passion can be disengaging—generating a lot of action that may start to feel purposeless over time. Conviction without passion can actually be judgmental, dogmatic, flat (and even dangerous if it’s heartless).
If you want to get more in touch with the real courage of your convictions, take a few minutes to explore these questions and what the answers really mean. This can be an exercise you do for yourself as a leader or with a group as a culture or brand-building activity. Once you’ve brainstormed your answers, then consider how those insights could shape a more powerful stance, start a conversation or just get others more interested in you. I’ll share my own answers as an example.
What are you most passionate about, and why does that matter to you? (NOTE: Don’t just list things you like to do at work; this exercise is about finding clues to your voice through a more holistic lens. Would that look different for a group or organization? Sure, but brainstorm a list of individual interests to see if some collective passions emerge that might also be shaping/driving your culture).
So, I’m passionate about expression and identity, redemptive stories, great writing and design, music with moving lyrics, color, abstract painting and collages, poetic voices, positive psychology, human motivation, causes/organizations that empower well being, mentoring, purpose and legacy.
If I think about why these things matter to me, the pattern that emerges is my core identity as a creative type who loves expression that’s meaningful and really matters (and has a positive, purposeful tone).
What do you know or believe more than anything else, and what are you willing to do because of that? (NOTE: Remember, these are core principles that shape who you are and what actions you’ll take. Shared beliefs would be uncovered in a group exercise to explore this question as well).
So, here are my answers: I believe that everyone has a story to tell and a voice that deserves to be heard. I believe that there’s something special about every individual and organization that needs to be seen and acknowledged. I believe that we’re all part of a tapestry where every thread matters. I believe that well being is a fundamental human right.
If I think about what I’ll do as a result—well, it feels like I’m doing this right now—authentic branding/communications work that helps individuals and organizations get heard and contribute in important ways. I especially love working with purpose-driven organizations and non-profits that cultivate well being and serve the under-served, so that fits in as well.
When I put passion and conviction together, I think it gets back to my slogan. My premise is that a truly authentic voice is essential for success, contribution and well being. If that’s provocative, it’s only because a lot of communications out there are about spin and saying what we think other people want to hear. I like helping my clients be courageous enough to lead and shape their brands with authenticity.
So where does the courage of your convictions take you? Feel free to share any insights about your own courageous convictions with me (or tweet them to @storybrander). And remember to enjoy the ride as you move toward that finish line!
Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world. She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS). Cindy helps individual and organizational clients cast themselves in a compelling, enduring story that authentically conveys their unique value. Take the SVSS for yourself here: http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.