Authentic Leadership & The Trueness of the Now
by Jenny Doh
OUR BEST SELVES
I want to congratulate all of us for being here, because it took a lot more effort than many people from the outside would ever realize for all of us to get into this room. It’s just a few hours that we are going to spend with one another, but in order for those few hours to be meaningful, in order for each of us to make our best impressions on one another, in order for us to make contacts that will blossom into relationships, there has been a lot of prep work to ready our best selves for this Launch Your Creativity event. And more than anyone else, Sharon Hughes has worked countless hours to tend to every detail, every aspect of this event to make it special, to make it ring true to her vision, and to make sure that each of us walk away feeling connected and valued. And so for that, I’d like to ask you to join me in giving a round of applause for Sharon Hughes.
WHAT PRECEDES SUCCESS
If you’re like me, after today is over, you’ll be back at home, tending to you kids and making sure that they are on track as they finish their homework and prepare for the exams that are ahead of them in the coming week. I’m thankful that even as 16 and 13 year olds, my kids are learning that in order to do well on a test, in order to get the most out of a teacher’s lesson, the student needs to enter the classroom well prepared. They are learning that no matter how naturally brilliant they may be, studying, preparing, and practicing are what precede success in the classroom.
Within the world of creativity that we all are a part of, we play assorted roles, according to the changing seasons of life that we find ourselves in. Whether we are a student, teacher, speaker, an event coordinator, an editor, an artist, a businesswoman … and as we juggle other private roles of mom, grandma, wife, sister, daughter, girlfriend … we have many obligations to manage so that when we are entering any given room, we are doing so, well prepared, and presenting our best selves.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
Earlier this year I was at an art event and there was a person who came up to me and asked me what advice I could give her in terms of the best search engine optimization words for effective blogging (SEO words for short). When I told her that I didn’t know of any SEO words, she was in disbelief. She wanted to know how I could be leading a blog when I don’t embed my posts with any SEO words.
She’s a person, like many within our creative world, who wants to find ways for people to discover her blog, who wants to be a leader, and who wants to get noticed. And I don’t mean to trivialize her or her intent because I think it’s an intent we all share because who amongst us doesn’t want to get noticed and discovered? Who amongst us doesn’t want high traffic on our blogs? Who amongst us doesn’t want to have influence, to lead, and also to have our product or our services translate into sales, and for our work to be revered for the depth and quality that we know we are made of? All of us want that.
As some of you may already know, SEO words are words that are considered hot topic words that people within the field that you are trying to engage with, would potentially plug into a google search when they are searching for something. For example, if you are wanting to get noticed in the mixed media community, words like art journals, assemblage, altered art are the kind that SEO types would argue should be regularly used in blog posts so your posts come up in people’s searches. So given that the mixed media community is one that I consider to be part of my tribe, the fact that I would do a post about my bento box filled with crunchy and salted seaweed and perfectly steamed rice would cause some SEO experts to feel that I am not making the most out of my posts, and squandering my online opportunities.
But I disagree. I think blogs become special when posts are made with complete sincerity that is born out of the Trueness of the NOW, and without putting on any airs. It’s an organic, humble, authentic approach to sharing who you are, and it’s the only approach that I know and believe in.
I want to tell you another story. Not too long ago, I was one of the recipients of an email that my friend sent out to all the friends on her email list asking everyone to click onto a link where we could vote for her husband’s software design as the best, amongst others that the design was competing with, at his place of work. Such an awkward situation, right? I mean, I wanted to support my friend and therefore by default, her husband, but I really was not qualified nor interested in software design and by casting a vote, it was like I would be part of this fake influence that would become factored into a company’s decision-making process as they invested in which software products to launch.
A variation of this phenomenon that hits close to home for many of us is when we are invited to either “like” a Facebook page or “follow” a Twitter account or “subscribe” to a Blog feed. Again, I think these invitations are made with harmless intent, but chances are that if I “like” a page or “follow” an account out of obligation versus true interest, true free will, I will never visit that site, and of course I won’t be genuinely engaged.
This does not mean that we ought not create Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or other of the myriad channels available to market our work in the online world. Because in this day and age, these are highly effective tools that cannot be ignored if we are wanting to grow an audience.
It’s just that gaining followers or likers by rallying my husband’s co-workers or distant relatives or getting hits through SEO words that are not true to the Authenticity of the NOW can provide us with a false sense of success and distort the true reach and true influence that our efforts have. Are we really leading or influencing anyone when the ones who follow us or like us or subscribe to us never tune into what we do?
So let’s go back to the concept of preparing and practicing and readying our best selves. When you think about it, the concept of readying our best selves assumes that we know what’s at the core of our best selves, right? Knowing what’s at the core so that we can take that basic core and make it become the best.
In other words, who are you at the core? What is it that you want to contribute? What is it you want to commit to doing?
This fundamental question might tempt us to prematurely jump to other questions like: Do you want to open a restaurant? Do you want to open a store? Do you want to run a blog and sell advertising? Do you want to write a book? Do you want to license you art?
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?
But I think it’s even more basic and more specific than that ... like: Do you want to cook French cuisine? For how many people? Do you want to bake cupcakes? Do you want to design aprons? Do you want to make dolls? Do you want to create paintings? What is it that you want to do?
And after answering the more basic and specific question, the next question is why? Why do you want to make paintings? Is it because you saw your girlfriend sell a painting on etsy and you are envious of that? Or is it because you’ve had a longstanding passion for painting and you want to put your whole heart into it? Do you want to cook French cuisine because every time you prepare the French recipes for your dinner parties, your friends rave about how good it is? Or is it because you just rented Julie and Julia and you hope that by becoming a French chef, you can be rescued from your current job that you dread?
I think it’s important to answer specific questions to get to the root of what it is we want to do, and to understand the intent of why we want to do it. And let me tell you something you probably already know, which is that when the intent is misguided, the outcome will be troubled.
COMMITMENT=10,000 Hours +
And finally, once we understand what we want to do and find the good intent that backs up why we want to do it, we come to the point making a commitment. Are you willing to commit to what you want?
In this fast-paced world where gratification is instant and notes are considered long when it goes beyond 140 characters, it’s tempting to think that our dreams are only one text away from becoming fully realized.
But the truth of the matter is, it isn’t. Meet anyone who has achieved any type of success that you admire and they will tell you that it took a lot of work.
Many of you may have read Malcom Gladwell’s book titled The Outliers, where he presents findings that point to what he calls the 10,000 hours rule. Basically, as he examined and researched the highly successful in our world, he found that preceding the success was approximately 10,000 hours of quality, committed work. 10,000 hours. If we calculate that into a typical work week, that’s about 5 years. Not 5 hours. Not 5 days. Not 5 weeks or even 5 months. Five years of committed, focused, determined work to the specific art or the business or the craft or the study that we decide will be ours.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
When my kids were little, games and activities they enjoyed playing included Follow the Leader, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I, and Show and Tell. They are games that you and I also grew up with and will undoubtedly be played by future generations because they tap into our innate desire and thirst to lead, to have influence, and to have an audience.
Once we commit to what we want, I think there will eventually be room to fine-tune our reach through search engine optimization and a whole host of other marketing strategies. But before we fine-tune, we need to genuinely develop the core of who we are, the core of our intent, and the foundation of what we are offering as our product or service through long-term commitment.
There is nothing as fierce as encountering a person who has committed to work with relentlessness on their chosen craft. Because once this is done, whether you seek it or not, your reach, your influence, and your leadership will be authentic and sincere and so True to the NOW, and therefore profound and lasting.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you.
Per the invitation of Sharon Hughes, I had the honor of presenting this talk at the Launch Your Creativity event on October 1, 2011. Stay tuned to learn more about future events by Launch Your Creativity. Many thanks to all of the attendees, all of the other speakers, and everyone at Paris in a Cup Tea Salon & Cafe (119 S. Glassell St., Orange, CA 92866) for an inspiring event.