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Turn Your Vulnerability into Business Success

Turn Your Vulnerability into Business Success

April 25, 2014

How Vulnerability, Accountability and Courageous Communication Can Change Your Life

Can you be vulnerable and ask for help?

Can you be held accountable and hold others accountable?

Can you engage in courageous communication?  

If you can, then you can see tremendous results.  If you don’t believe me, keep on reading.    

A Must Read Turnaround Story

When you talk to Jeff Jeffery, the CEO of IRMCO Advanced Lubricant Technologies, today he is quite happy. Walking on air, you might say.

“I’ve been at it for 35 years, and never seen any results like this. We’re sitting on the nose of a rocket!” says Jeff, whose company is looking at a 20% increase in sales this year, following their best year ever. Those increases are really saying something, as the company has been around for 100 years! Jeff is also thrilled that IRMCO just landed major accounts, including a top European car maker and one of the leading backyard grill companies in America. In addition, he has more personal satisfaction than he’s ever had.


How did he do this?  Let’s find out.

Before & After: The “Before” Story

Ever read a human interest story about someone who lost a lot of weight?  Rebuilt their home?  Changed their life? Well, this is such a story.

Flashback... when we first met Jeff, he was working his way through personal and business troubles that had rocked his confidence and his ability to deal effectively with confrontation. Let’s get clear about one thing. Jeff is an amazing, successful guy. He is like most Brand Launcher clients — accomplished doing well, but looking to do better — and he’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Jeff’s management style leaned heavily toward being accommodating and “nice." The problem is, we all know where “nice guys” finish.

As a result, Jeff was watching a business, started by his great grandfather, a mining immigrant from England, become stagnant. Through the 20th century, IRMCO had grown and emerged as an industry leader in advanced metalforming lubricant technology. They create and sell non-oil lubricants used in heavy manufacturing and large stamping presses, in machines from lawnmowers to automobiles. Sales had grown by leaps and bounds in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The problem was, “I wasn’t really holding myself or my team accountable.” In his own words, he was being “wishy washy” when it came to leadership. But Jeff did take one very courageous and bold step: he resolved to grow and therefore, reached out for help. 

Introducing Vulnerability, Accountability, and Courageous Communication

The idea of being vulnerable means recognizing that you might be standing in the way of your own success.  For Jeff, it meant recognizing what he needed to change.

“One of the things that Brand Launcher suggested to me was to look at it holistically; to look at both the business side and also my personal side. Maybe I was in the way. Maybe I wasn’t expressing myself. That was hard for me to listen to at first, but after some reflection, I listened.”

You see, most leaders think it’s outside factors that are holding them back. The truth is, what’s often holding them back is their own thinking.

Through courageous guided self-exploration, Jeff recognized that he:  

  • Needed to be more authentic and vulnerable with his team, and to recognize that this would cause his team to become more authentic and vulnerable as well.

  • Needed to hold others accountable. But accountability is a knife that cuts both ways, so he also needed to be willing to be held accountable…you can’t do one without the other.

  • Needed to be able to have hard conversations with people and be willing to face the scary confrontation that may come from being direct.

In essence, Jeff needed what we call “courageous communication,” where pleasantries are replaced by honesty and realness, but in a kind and respectful manner.  It wouldn’t work any other way — Jeff was never going to be a jerk — but he was willing to be courageous in his communication.  Jeff shifted his attention and his energy, starting in small matters and then increasing to all aspects of his life. He took a new approach in his interactions, listening closely and sharing honestly how he felt a problem should be addressed, rather than simply agreeing with others to avoid confrontation.  

Jeff was becoming more courageous. With his Brand Launcher mentor present, he told his team that they needed to be accountable for delivering on results. They had set goals in the past, but this time he was serious. Critically, he told them they could count on him to be accountable, too. And then he explained exactly what he is going to do with the company and their clients. Jeff also made it clear that failure was not an option. Wow. What an inspiring (and risky) move.

“While working with Brand Launcher, we reviewed what I was doing and what I wasn’t doing,” says Jeff in recapping the process. “Through a series of discussions, I found my voice and gained the confidence I needed to express what I really wanted from the company, for my people, and for me.”

The “After” Story: Meet the New Jeff

After self-evaluation and recognizing that being courageous drew the respect of his team, we began to see the new Jeff. “I noticed how I was treating people, and how they treated me; I was noticing the difference in my client calls and my meetings with my staff,” says Jeff. He also began to see the difference in his personal life.

  • Now, when Jeff talked to a customer he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Instead he would ask, “Why are you working with our competitor? What can we do to get your business?”  He didn’t leave until he got some answers.

  • He went back to customers who had said “no” in the past and presented them with something new, like a new product or a new idea about using current products.

  • Since failure was not an option, when he couldn’t land a customer, he went in through a back door or window, partnering with a company already working with the potential customer who had their trust. This type of thinking comes from a clear commitment to driving progress.    

There are two parts to this story. The first part is about making promises in sales and marketing; the second part is about being able to deliver on promises with better products and systems.

Here’s what he did that made a huge difference in sales and marketing. You see, most leaders make the mistake of only measuring the results, like the sales. But Jeff set up specific milestones  for activities that deliver the results.  Make sure you got that. He focused on the small activities that would drive sales, not just the sales themselves. The company committed to sending out strategic emails. His team committed to scheduling a certain number of meetings in which he would hold them accountable and they would return the favor. IRMCO also realized they need to clearly illustrate their market advantage in a simple and bold way. They invested in developing a series of fun and engaging infographics that featured lubricants and similar products through the ages.  The new Jeff has more confidence, more determination, and definitely more chutzpah.  

Sure, Jeff Jeffery could have blamed the struggling economy, the world market, his competitors, and his customers for IRMCO’s struggles in recent years.  Brand Launcher empowered him to use a mirror instead of the window and to look at himself as the cause of what was happening. Jeff looked inward, allowed himself to be vulnerable, examined his own weaknesses and strengths, and improved both his personal and business life.    

The results were awesome! And if you are willing to engage in courageous communications too, you can make amazing changes for yourself.

So, what’s holding you back? Consider the following questions:

  • When are you wishy washy and avoiding confrontation?

  • When are you being “nice” at the expense of being honest and direct? (Note: Actually, this is fake harmony, which is ultimately bad for all parties. Get clear about the difference between “nice” and “kind.” Nice can be poison, while kind is life giving.)  

  • How can you be more vulnerable?

  • What will it take for you to reach out for help so that you can be empowered to actualize your greatest potential?

  • How can you hold your team accountable and be willing to be held accountable as well?

  • What would it take for you to overcome your fear and engage in courageous communication, where you say what needs to be said in a respectful, kind way?

While you ponder these questions, make sure to read Part 2 of the Jeff Jeffery turnaround story.  You will see the heart of a turnaround and how he achieved magnificent results, dramatically improving his own personal satisfaction and business performance.

Taking you from where you are to  where you want to be,