#ASAEIdeas20: Think Different, Be Different

Monday’s Main Stage speakers encouraged attendees to think differently about failure, confidence, and data as a way to position themselves and their organizations as better leaders.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Wear self-confidence proudly. Don’t overly rely on data. Those were the leadership principles that the three Main Stage speakers urged association executives to embrace at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference on Monday.

What do those principles mean in practice? Here’s how they elaborated on their advice:

Turn failure into a strategic resource. Mark Coopersmith—a Fortune 500 global executive and author of The Other “F” Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams, and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work—kicked off his talk by telling attendees what he wouldn’t be doing: “I am not going to try to get you to like failing.” he said. “So, instead, I’m going to focus on how we can get better at dealing with it and help you become more failure-savvy leaders.”

To accomplish this, Coopersmith said, organizations need to adopt the failure value cycle, which includes seven stages: respect, rehearse, recognize, react, reflect, rebound, and remember.

“Respect that failure happens a lot,” he said. “Rehearse for those failures and recognize them early. But when a failure happens, react in the moment—react decisively to stop the bleeding. Then, afterwards, take a moment before you fix it to reflect on why this happened. And then put your rebound strategy in place—but always remember the failure.”

Why should organizations remember their failures? “Because you don’t want to make the same mistakes again,” Coopersmith said. “You want to be able to move ahead knowing what didn’t work the last time around.”

Choose to be self-confident. When Lisa Sun was 22 and working as an associate principal at McKinsey, she received a performance review from her boss that started out with this sentence: “Lisa comes across as young and overenthusiastic at times. She should seek to have more gravitas.”

Not knowing what “gravitas” meant, Sun looked it up: “It said dignity, importance, stuffed with substance,” she said.

She wanted to know what her boss meant, and when she asked her supervisor a few weeks later, Sun was surprised by the response. “When you wake up in the morning, you’re the first person you have to look at—and you have to look in the mirror and like yourself. I can teach you how to be great at this job, but I can’t teach you how to believe in yourself,” her boss told her.

And that stuck with her while she was writing the mission statement of Gravitas, the women’s retail brand that she founded in 2013: “Our job is to catalyze confidence,” Sun said. “We catalyze confidence in people’s lives.”

She reminded attendees that being self-confident is a choice. “Ninety percent of the time we can choose to be self-confident,” she said. “But how many of us wake up in the morning thinking about our long list of to-dos—and we think about doubt and fear—and we don’t think about paying ourselves a compliment in the morning?”

According to Sun, if attendees begin to think about their unique gifts, they’ll begin to unlock their potential. “Think about self-confidence as your best outfit,” she said.

Don’t be ruled by data. “The inability to make a decision and decision-making spin can create a quest for more and more data,” said Shelley Row, P.E., CSP, president and CEO of Shelley Row Associates LLC. “But more data isn’t always the answer.”

Row outlined a process to help attendees “solve the real problem and achieve an association’s goals with less frustration.”

The first step is to stop spinning. “Have you ever noticed that when you’re in that decision-making spin there’s this little nagging feeling that holds you back?” Row asked. “You see, it’s not a data problem; it’s a nagging feel problem.”

Think of that nagging feeling as your check-engine light. “When that check-engine light comes on, you need to get under your hood to diagnose it, or you risk having that feeling take you off in a direction where you make the wrong decision,” she said.

So, how do you diagnose it? You name the feeling. “Are you anxious or concerned about member reaction?” she said. “When you have that intelligence, you are ready to solve the real problem.”

And how do you ultimately know when you’ve solved it? “The nagging feeling goes away when you make the right decision,” Row said.

Lisa Sun of the retail brand Gravitas. (Samantha Whitehorne)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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