Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The courage to encourage

Somewhere today, someone's resolution for the new year will be to explore going out on their own. What will you say when they confide their dream?

When someone I know well asks me to talk over their desire to go independent or take some other entrepreneurial risk, I always take the time to share insights and encouragement. I used to also refer these wannabes on to another business owner for advice, until one of the wannabes came back to me in tears. She'd been so thoroughly discouraged by my colleague that she was shelving her dream, ashamed of even having asked the question.

Then I remembered that this colleague had long ago once admitted seeing independents as "the competition." At the time, I'd dismissed this as ridiculous. But now, I saw it translated into advice designed to stop competitors before they opened their doors.

As business strategies go, I don't recommend it. As Seth Godin points out, approaching your business by trying to eliminate your competition means your goal is to be the provider of last resort. Far from a good growth strategy, it comes from a vision of scarcity. I'm much more a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats person, myself.

One of my mentors warned me a little over 10 years ago that starting this business would be the most intellectual thing I'd ever do. He was right, and I love that about entrepreneurship. I spin new ideas, review missteps, and mostly, encourage myself to keep at it, since entrepreneurs are the chief encouragement officers of their businesses--even if you're a solopreneur. Maybe especially. Encouragement of yourself takes dreaming, underrated as an intellectual activity. You need to be able to picture yourself succeeding at something, or at least trying it.

But now I realize that encouraging others takes courage. You need to be able to picture the other person succeeding at something, or at least trying it, and have the courage to see it as something other than a threat to you. To encourage, you need to share courage, something impossible to give away if you don't have extra for yourself.

The root of courage and encouragement comes from the French word for heart, coeur. Another word for encouragement is to hearten. We spin dreams in the mind, and seat them in the heart. That conversation missed the warning in Yeats's lines, "I have spread my dreams under your feet./Tread softly for you tread on my dreams." Treading softly need not mean skirting the harsh realities ahead for the person you're encouraging. Far from it.  I like to talk to my wannabe independent friends about the risks, then quote Robert Redford, who says about his own entrepreneurship, "Not taking a risk is a risk."

I'm fortunate to have many clients who practice active appreciation and encouragement. But for everyday purposes, I've got a couple of partners in encouragement, which is a good way to keep that muscle in shape and use it frequently. We find each other's courage for our respective ventures infectious, and we know it's needed not just when a venture launches, but at many steps along the way. That helps us create opportunities for one another

How did that start? We connected in the way that Kare Anderson talks about in this TED talk on being an opportunity-maker:
What I'm asking you to consider is what kind of opportunity-makers we might become, because more than wealth or fancy titles or a lot of contacts, it's our capacity to connect around each other's better side and bring it out. And I'm not saying this is easy, and I'm sure many of you have made the wrong moves too about who you wanted to connect with, but what I want to suggest is, this is an opportunity....
She concludes with:
I truly believe, in my firsthand experience, the world is hungry for us to unite together as opportunity-makers and to emulate those behaviors as so many of you already do — I know that firsthand — and to reimagine a worldwhere we use our best talents together more often to accomplish greater things togetherthan we could on our own. Just remember, as Dave Liniger once said, "You can't succeed coming to the potluck with only a fork."
So if you have a friend who's taking the risk of taking a risk in 2015, don't just toast the spinning ideas and dreams when they and the year are fresh. Bring out the champagne and the courage and the thoughtful connections when it's least expected and most needed. And repeat. Having the courage to encourage, remember, means you have plenty left over for yourself. Watch Kare Anderson's funny, wise talk for a little more inspiration, and happy new year!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Zen Sutherland)

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