Could playing small be what’s keeping you from winning big in business?
Each time I sit down to watch an episode of Mad Men I’m drawn in by the power that Don Draper commands in a meeting. He knows that he’s got the right idea. His cocksure pitch blankets the client in confidence. With total faith, they believe that the campaign will work to increase sales and build their personal reputations as genius decision makers. And whether it’s Cool Whip or Clearasil, Don and the Mad Men of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce deliver.
What keeps many talented professionals from selling their ideas or closing a deal? In a word: fear. Afraid of rejection or being seen as out of touch, or worse stupid, they present with apology and have a compromised strategy in their back pocket should their original thinking be shot down in flames.
Getting your idea rejected is not the end of the road– it’s a speed bump.
My personal struggle in developing that Don Draper-like swagger came from not really understanding or owning my personal power. I’d give it away by trying to please everyone. My motivation? I wanted to be liked… desperately. I would take on every job, even when I was stretched. I’d have a terrible time saying “no” when I should have.
This fear-based “dancing bear” behavior came to an end at a meeting with the president of a top financial company. After I had created the firm’s brand strategy, I was asked to conceive a new advertising campaign. During the pitch, I showed my client three different directions and then quietly asked, “Which one do you like best?” He suddenly got red in the face, rose from his chair and pounded the desk with his fist and said, “I pay you a lot of money to help me build this brand. Now stop trying to please me and YOU TELL ME which campaign to run!” That meeting was a wake up call to peel the dancing bear mask right off. I did it little by little everyday with practice, because I knew that dancing bear behavior didn’t resonate with my soul or serve my personal brand.
Don Draper is no dancing bear. He doesn’t second-guess how the client may react to what he’s presenting or try to adjust to a mediocre mindset. Rather, he confidently steps up to the plate, grasps the bat of clarity firmly, and calmly sets his sights. Then he swings for the fences. If he strikes out he knows there will be other times up at bat. And heck, if they don’t get what he’s pitching, to hell with them—there are other clients out there that will.
When it’s time for you to get in the big idea game, be mindful of your expectations. People will be people, and each one will have their individual responses. After all, judgment is the social currency of our society. Pitch and then detach so you can easily roll with the punches. The more you’re invested in a specific outcome, the greater your disappointment if things don’t go as you imagined.
The big lesson here is to say what you need to say in a way that benefits your company or client. Make sure that you honor the company’s mission and the people receiving your ideas. If you are confident and enthusiastic about your concept, you’ll be seen as a fearless leader who can make a positive impact.
A special note for those that take pitches and hire outside creative partners and consultants: if you have the attitude that these folks are lucky to be working for you or they should be kowtowing to your every whim, now is the time to change your thinking. Why? For two reasons: 1) they are your link to the outside world and, 2) they could be your ticket to stardom. If you put your faith in their talents the way that Don Draper’s clients do, you’ll reap rewards. On the flip side, if you try to control, diminish or intimidate them, you could tarnish your reputation and sabotage results.
As Don Draper boldly said in Season 4 of Mad Men, “You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself.”