A background in music performance may seem incongruous with success in Corporate America, but the lessons I took with me and have since applied to my professional life continue to surprise. Maybe someday they’ll fill a book.
What do all youth orchestras have in common? Their entrances are feeble. Why? No one person wants to be wrong and end up the only flautist fluting fortissimo. A major challenge youth orchestra directors face is getting sections to come in together. Especially after extended rests, every instrumentalist is worried they counted wrong. And who wants to come in early in front of all those parents? If they do come in at the right time, they play so softly (just in case) that there’s no force behind the music. This is why my music director always told us to go big or go home. If you’re going to mess it up, at least be confident and do what you think is right.
It may seem like a simple message, but it’s a delicate skill — Be Bold.
How does this translate into the business world? Quite readily. Fortunately for us corporate types, not much depends on a dozen people silently counting to four sixteen times in a row. In fact, most offices don’t even have a metronome. But there’s an obvious parallel here: don’t shy away from confidently presenting or supporting your work.
Ask yourself this: Am I confident in the message — can I support it? If so, act like it. If not, don’t present the message.
This approach helps in two key ways: (1) It improves the way your coworkers perceive you, and (2) it forces you double-check your work.
Perception is more important that it should be, but we need all the help we can get. Being perceived as confident and strong, rather than a milquetoast, is always better — no matter who is more often correct.
And besides — don’t sweat it. There are very few absolute truths (or corresponding absolute falsehoods) in business anyway. Yes, numbers can be wrong. But why was somebody else analyzing the data (doing your job)? Yes, there may be a better way to enhance your Help Desk throughput, but without working at least as hard as you already have, there’s no way to tell. As long as due diligence is done, you’re in the clear.
So be confident, be proud — be bold.
What if you’re wrong? That’s a whole different post, but the short answer is that being wrong is just another opportunity to demonstrate professionalism. The best can turn their mistake into something that elevates them in the eyes of others. By clearly accepting blame, taking corrective action, and communicating a thoughtful plan to ensure it won’t happen again, they come out on top. It’s not how you fall, it’s how you pick yourself up.
So don’t sweat it. Be bold.