Driving Growth Through Service
It’s incumbent upon us to pivot feelings of imposter syndrome or self-doubt by showing up in service of others, or in service of something bigger than us.
- Leadership requires vulnerability, compassion, and enthusiasm.
- Leading an organization today requires an understanding that our businesses are in service of customers, and really, the world.
- We must drive legitimacy through purpose and focus on how our leadership can improve the world through service.
Recently, I had the privilege of presenting to the 2023 graduating class of Plymouth State University, and I’ve been asked to share some excerpts from my talk. I want to share a simple idea with you that I discovered early on that you might find useful – one of the first times I felt inadequate in my professional career.
I was 23 years old. I’d just started my first tech company. There were three of us, my cofounders and me. We went in to make a proposal presentation to a potential customer. The director of the division of the big shipping company we were pitching was an experienced man in his 50s, very sharp, and to me, rather intimidating.
My impostor mind started asking me, “Who was I to be here in this large corporate building selling him anything?” I froze several times, I stammered my way through our presentation, and I felt like I needed to ask permission even to speak.
When we left the meeting one of my co-founders reminded me that we need to be bold; customers need us. They really need what we are talking to them about.
His words stuck with me. He was right. This wasn’t really about me, or how adequate I felt. I had to look past that and see the opportunity in front of me – to be in service of them. We could do something important that they needed done.
As I thought more about that experience and encountered more opportunities in my working life which intimidated me, I’d go back to that meeting at the big shipping company. I might not feel adequate in this moment, but I’m here in service of others, or in service of something bigger than me – and then despite fear, I’d show up, ready to be of service, with whatever I could accomplish.
This simple pivot of being here in service, representing something bigger than me – helped me get over my own fear, and build habits of showing up anyway.
Feelings of inferiority, also known as imposter syndrome, are a well-known human trait. These feelings can hold you back, sap your confidence, and make you shrink when you should rise, but if you acknowledge it and make a habit of rising anyway, despite fear, your path and your contributions will be rich. That’s the advice I gave during my acceptance remarks for my honorary degree conferred by the class of 2023 at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
This advice comes from experience. Today, Mimecast is an advanced email and collaboration security company with a global footprint; during its early years, my cofounders and I faced an uphill battle in convincing customers of the need to secure email. We had to be both enthusiastic and empathetic to champion these potential customers’ needs. The early years of starting a business can sometimes be an exercise in imposter syndrome, but the trick, as I shared with the PSU class of 2023, is to pivot: to be of service, to represent something bigger than ourselves.
Now in 2023, the world is unbelievably full of problems and opportunities to be of service. We face challenges at many levels: our food and agriculture system is fundamentally flawed, our planet is in the midst of a climate crisis, and we need to remake our energy system. We’re filling our oceans and landfill with fast fashion and plastic, we are too slowly addressing social injustice, our healthcare system is too expensive, and the technologies designed to make life easier are often making life feel much harder – less bringing us together and more pushing us apart.
And at the same time, there’s opportunity. Innovation in software and hardware has never accelerated faster and AI and post-silicon computing platforms will bring unprecedented changes in the next 10 years. On the climate front, we are tantalizingly close to fusion as a usable energy source, and the renewable energy economy is accelerating; what’s more, regenerative agriculture is making a resurgence and vegetarian diets are growing in popularity. And our knowledge and understanding on mental health awareness and de-stigmatization has grown, while actions are seeing momentum.
But these opportunities and strides forward haven’t come by accident, or on a whim. These and other movements need bold people to drive them, to build their skills, to tackle problems, to be of service, and to be successful. It also needs people who are willing to lead with kindness.
As my co-founder said to me during Mimecast’s early days, these guys need us. Pivot away from the common human tendency to self-doubt and instead focus on the larger mission of who or what you’re in service of. You can watch the honorary degree acceptance speech to get more anecdotes about Mimecast’s early days.
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