Movement leaders should apply ‘Be Fearless’ principles

Jean Case’s first book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose, sets forth her philosophy for driving deep, lasting change for organizations. As I read it, I found myself thinking of a common issue many cause leaders ask me about: How do we stay relevant?

Causes today face a tough challenge with relevancy given the fleeting attention of the public and the number of organizations in the cause space. Though segments of the public are engaged at times with certain causes they care about, many people remain on the sidelines, even during history-making movements and campaigns by well-known organizations. 

How can cause leaders break through the competitive interests, unconcern and even apathy affecting potential audiences to inspire engagement? Moreover, how can they first obtain the data they need to move toward sustained relevancy? 

By fearlessly facing risks, as Jean says, organizations can ensure they are growing in their understanding of themselves, their issue and their audiences.

Here is how your organization can apply her 5 principles for being fearless. 

Principle 1: Make a Big Bet

Leaders must be willing to move beyond what’s normal to gain public trust and inspire action. Jean says big bets and short-term failure lead to new discoveries that propel the next iteration of a movement forward. 

For example, you could test a single line in your next email campaign – a small bet with little risk and little potential reward. How much will you really learn that’s actionable? Instead, think bigger. Send a team to connect with people at a relevant community event, then track their engagement from there. Or make an even bigger bet by sending a team around the country to motivate influencers to take small yet meaningful actions in support of your issue. Only big bets will return information you can use to propel your movement forward, regardless of whether they succeed or fail. 

Principle 2: Be Bold, Take Risks

Great achievements require boldly assuming risks along the way. Without risk, Jean says, we lack ingenuity.

Normally risk-averse organizational cultures need to change from challenging every risk to accepting risks that can result in valuable information. When staff, volunteers or board members bring concerns about risk, cause leaders should explore with them the potential lessons that may result from the “risky” new idea, campaign or approach. Reassure these concerned individuals that the outcome and learning are far better than not taking the risk at all.                                                     

Principle 3: Make Failure Matter

As Jean says, “Great achievers view failure as a necessary part of advancing toward success. … When failure happens, great innovators make the setback matter, applying the lessons learned and sharing them with others.”

Each move our organization makes takes us one step closer to proving our hypothesis or defining a new one. I get excited when an organization calls and says, “We tried this and that” – not because they failed, but because I know they are taking risks and proceeding toward an even better movement built on tested methods and iterations. 

Before you take the next action in your marketing plan, gather your team and post all the hypotheses to be tested on the wall. Regroup later to determine which ones failed and why, what the organization learned and what you need to test next. 

Principle 4: Reach Beyond Your Bubble

Jean believes it’s the unexpected partnerships that create unique and systemic movement transformations. 

I’ve worked with organizations that said they’d never be able to do something because they lacked a certain resource – then found new partners in industries they’d never considered exploring. Go beyond the natural, tried-and-true partners and identify entities in other sectors that can bolster your movement’s progress with a unique asset your organization needs. For instance, find that company whose technology can improve your program’s impact on your beneficiaries. Reach out to entities that serve the same people but are in a different industry or issue, and learn from their insights and perspectives.  

Principle 5: Let Urgency Conquer Fear

Humans find time to act when they feel a sense of urgency. For Jean, the right time to act is always now

Urgency is the real reason we find time to make changes. Look at any appeal from December; each had an element of urgency. In fact, every donation request I received on December 31 gave me an explicit, highly urgent deadline: “Act before midnight!” 

You have an endemic urgent need to engage the public: 18% of your database contacts will go bad each year. If you don’t solve the problem of public engagement now, you will start your next effort already behind. Today will always be the right time to experiment, dive into a new approach and decide what led to remarkable breakthroughs – and remember, failures lead to as many breakthroughs as successes. As you define your next moves, determine the best return-on-investment path for shifting support to bring about the greatest impact. 

Put Your Fearlessness Into Practice

My favorite synonym of fearless is stouthearted, which means courageous and resolute. Fearlessness does not mean taking unnecessary risks, or risks that have no potential for valuable return. Cause leaders show fearlessness when they courageously propose taking actions that will result in new information upon which subsequent decisions can be made, resolutely defend their position and see the action through, then share what they’ve learned from both failures and successes with their team to improve the next testing action. 

Real change comes from such fearlessness. By applying the tips included in Jean’s book, you can create lasting, significant improvements to your own organization.

Buy Be Fearless today.

Derrick Feldmann