Mae West famously said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Charming and witty as I’ve always found Mae, she’s wrong.
Last week I found myself doing a whole day of sales calls back-to-back. I’ve been the chief rainmaker for my firm, Corporate Rain, for the seventeen years I’ve been in business and I’m pretty sure-handed with how I choose to represent my company. I know who I am and the business qualities I want to emphasize and convey. I’m articulate and passionate about my product, as are most successful entrepreneurs. Yet there are times when my very strengths can undermine me and last week was one of those times.
What I found myself doing that day last week was becoming, gradually and without quite realizing it, a mechanical imitation of Tim Askew. A sort of gobbling autonomaton. As I tired through the day it became very easy to lean too hard on what I really do well. This very dependence on my strength made that strength my bane. It made into a negative that which usually would be a compelling positive. It made me into a jerk, an asshole, a used-car salesman, gold-plated phony.
We are all, of course, an amalgam of our strengths and weaknesses. Authenticity requires a constant need to be present with our whole self. And authenticity is the key to good entrepreneurial salesmanship. Authenticity simply means telling the truth with our whole being.
We can cause damage to our business by simply overvaluing and over relying on our strength. For example, what I do well is talk bluntly about ROI and service. But it can come off harshly and off-putting and arrogant when I push this good quality too hard. When we lean too hard on our most wonderful qualities the danger is becoming a presentational cardboard mock-up of perfection and can-do confidence, rather than a fully present, available human being and client servant.
I recently found a lovely statement applicable to human balance in business. It was a reprint at the Harvard Business Review online of a piece written by media consultant Tony Schwartz, who died in 2008. (HBR, 9/20/12, 8:00 AM) Tony states:
“No strength is reliably a strength by itself. Too much passion eventually becomes overberaring, but too much moderation leads to boring blandness. Too much introspection devolves into self-absorption, but too little results in superficiality. Confidence untempered by humility turns into arrogance. Tenacity unbalanced by flexibility congeals into rigidity. Courage without prudence becomes recklessness. Charm ungrounded in authenticity is simply disingenuousness….Holding our opposites is no easy task. They frequently feel contradictory and all of us crave certainty in an increasingly complex and bewildering world. It makes us feel safer. Settling for our strengths is the easy way out.”
So what is the entrepreneur to do who finds himself or herself scurrying too often to his or her preferred aspects?
Well, for me, I get out of my comfort zone. I have to stop and arbitrarily change my rhythms, become whole again and realign. I have to get out of my chair, walk around, breathe, click my heels together three times and say “there’s no place like home.” Perhaps say a prayer for truth and wholeness.
English anthropologist Gregory Bateson put it this way. “There is always an optimum value beyond which anything is toxic, no matter what: oxygen, sleep, psychotherapy, philosophy.” Thank you, Gregory.