Recently my daughter, Jennifer, who helped me start Fierce in my home 18 years ago said, “I loved baby fierce. Remember when we sat in the family room with that potential client from NYC and he didn’t mind that your Jack Russell jumped into his lap and shed all over his Armani suit and we got the job? And how your doves would coo and people on the phone would ask where you were? And how we trained facilitators in front of a crackling fire and then you served your famous chili?”
I remember. Now fierce is all grown up. We’re in beautiful offices in Seattle with a large team to serve our clients and we’ve reached a revenue that only 5% of training companies achieve.
We’ve still got loads of growing to do so, I thought I’d tell you what I believe has driven and will continue to drive our success and why Fierce is even more relevant today than it was 18 years ago.
Fierce is where we are today because of the people who work here. You might be thinking – Duh! – yes, but what kind of people? Beyond whatever skills and experience are needed for a role at Fierce, there are 3 things that attract us to those we bring into the tribe.
1. An expansive capacity for happiness.
Nobody wants to hang out with people who have a perpetual black cloud over their heads and yet another story of what’s wrong with their lives or jobs. Except maybe other unhappy people.
Compliments and encouragement don’t affect unhappy people. They are like buckets with a hole in them. No matter what you pour into them, it quickly leaks out and they are empty again.
While we all have unhappy moments, a perpetually unhappy person is toxic to those around them. A Harvard study found that bottom line, happiness is a choice. It is possible to flip the switch. I’ve done it myself. The study revealed that the 3 secrets of happiness are choosing to be happy with whatever you do, strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.
And let’s not be solely focused on ourselves. At Fierce, our leaders focus on how their team members feel about what they are doing, work to enrich relationships with their team members and pay attention to their team members’ physical, financial and emotional well-being. It is being a friend and a coach to your colleagues.
2. A willingness to be influenced.
A critical missing piece for many people, especially those in positions of power and influence, is a willingness to change one’s mind, to be open to the possibility that you have been wrong about a position or an action.
According to Inspector Gamache, head of the Sûreté du Québec in Louise Penny’s highly popular books, until you are able and willing to say “I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help. I was wrong”, you will never be truly successful. I agree wholeheartedly.
At work and at home, we can do nothing worse than be right time after time after time. We’ve all heard or said, “I'm right about this.” Have you thought about how many things are wrong with that sentence? In fact, the ravages of “intelligence” can be that we find ourselves all alone with our strongly held opinions.
If we aren’t open to changing our own views and behaviors, the past may reach out to claim us and it could be an unpleasant embrace.
At Fierce, we know that we arrive at the best decisions having listened to multiple, competing perspectives and so we invite those perspectives and work to stay curious during meetings and conversations. “What else”? “Say more.”
This is an essential aspect of what we teach our clients and what we practice ourselves. After all, there is no such thing as certainty, as knowing for a fact. The only dependable things are humility and looking, listening, staying awake.
Your smarts may get you in the door for an interview at Fierce but it won’t get you hired. I’m a fan of Deadwood, HBO’s Shakespeare-goes-to-South Dakota-during-the- Gold-Rush hit series. During Keith Carradine’s interview of David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, Milch said, “Reason is about seventeenth on the list of attributes that define us as a species and as far as I’m concerned, they can lower it, no problem.”
A survey concluded that executives see no competitive edge in graduates from MBA programs. Sure, they can analyze a case study, read a P&L statement and create a digital presence, none of which actually predicted success. Albert Einstein would agree. He said, “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve.”
So where does that leave us? Well, we’ve learned from studies, including one from Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning economist, that we make decisions and act on them first for emotional reasons, second for rational reasons.
The point is, we are emotional creatures. It’s what’s in our hearts, not our heads, that truly matters. And in the context of leadership, this is extremely important. Far too often, the primary focus of an organization’s hiring practices is to hire people with “credentials” – academic pedigrees, high IQ’s or test scores – rather than individuals who will, every day, bring with them through the doors not only intelligence, but also a full and open heart which they extend to others.
What they don’t realize is that increasing a company’s ‘smarts’ by twenty-five percent will not translate into revenue growth of twenty-five percent. Not even close. Which brings me to…
Why fierce conversations are more relevant today and ever.
In 1999 Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote a book titled The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Their position was that having a great product or service may get you in the front door, but your customers will exit via the back door if they don’t enjoy the experience of working with you and using your product or service.
It is undeniably clear today that experiences are a distinct economic offering and more and more businesses are responding by explicitly designing and promoting them and surveying all of us to see how they’re doing.
But what is the experience we’re after?
At Fierce, our work with clients large and small, domestic and global, has clarified that the experience we most desire is human connection. Plain and simple. Or perhaps plain but not so simple.
We are in the connection economy. Right now. Today.
Everywhere, people are hungry to connect, to be seen and known as the unique individuals that they are and this has an immediate and consequential impact on how we design business strategies, market our products and services and ultimately, whether our businesses succeed or fail.
Whether your goal is improved workplace relations or improved market share, your most valuable currency is your emotional capital with employees and customers. This is far from a naive, feel-good notion. It’s good business sense.
While conventional measures of business success shouldn’t be ignored, I propose that human connectivity, as opposed to strategy and tactics, is the next frontier for exponential growth and the only sustainable competitive edge, more visibly useful than ever before.
Unfortunately, business communication is still stuck in the Information Age. Too often, we treat our conversations and our relationships like we do our emails one way, directional, quick, clipped, efficient.
What to do? If you want to become a great leader, a great human being, you must gain the capacity to connect with those essential to your happiness and success - at a deep level – or lower your aim. That deep connection occurs or fails to occur one conversation at a time, one meeting at a time, one piece of feedback at a time.
I believe that this deep connection is greatly helped when you experience John Koenig’s beautiful made up word – sonder – the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness. You have to care about others, find them interesting, get to really know them.
And this might help you live longer. I’ve been enjoying the CNN series, Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in which he visits parts of the world where people live well past 90. In Italy, he found that the one word that describes the secret to a long and happy life is connection. Not just connection within their families, but also with friends, shop keepers, everyone with whom they interact.
Connecting at a deep level with colleagues and customers is a large part of what we teach and practice every day at Fierce. You can learn how to connect at a deep level with the people who are important to you. And it hardly needs saying that at this time on our planet, connection is sadly lacking.
In fact, the reverse is at play and we are all paying the price. Every one of us, that includes you and me, impacts the trajectory of our family cultures, work cultures and our global culture. We do this one successful conversation, one failed conversation, one missing conversation at a time. How would you assess your impact? If it isn’t what you want it to be, it’s time for a change.
On this fierce birthday, I am grateful for all who are part of our fierce tribe. Without our amazing people in the office and remote, without our fantastic board of advisors, without those who support us with their professional expertise, we would still be a good idea looking for a home. I am especially grateful to our clients who champion fierce throughout their organizations.
Thank you! I raise a glass to you and to those who will join us in having fierce conversations in the coming months and years.
With fierce affection,