“I’m a coward” — really?

mark on motorcycle

Staver_Courage_Book_web-2Yesterday morning, motivational speaker Mike Staver presented “Leadership isn’t for cowards” to a gathering of Ottawa-area bankers and home builders. His point: Real leaders don’t push or try to force subordinates and potential clients to act — they’ll just push back — but they need to create an experience and desire to get involved and work to achieve value-based objectives.

Staver invited the audience to come up with the many reasons for inaction and demonstrated how often traditional ‘persuasion’ methods don’t really work.

I thought about some ironies in his observations after the event as I prepared for a one-hour bicycle ride across town to my office. I suppose, based on my experience at his presentation, I’m a coward.

First, Staver invited audience members to pair up with people they knew, but not too well. Sitting at a table with some colleagues from the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association, I didn’t act quickly enough — I was the odd man out. I’m shy in these sorts of social situations (excuse). I think this sort of thing is artificial (excuse). I simply don’t want to follow the crowd and do what the speaker tells me to do with blind faith (mostly excuse, perhaps some fact.) I was in the wrong place in the room to make the connection to partner (excuse) . . . On and on. Whatever, I missed out on the Staver’s intentional group participation activities, feeling somewhat alienated as I listened to the room buzz as I reviewed emails on my wireless.

Then I thought about the ironies. Staver is into Harley Davidson motorcycles. He’s about to embark on a 41-day round-the-U.S. Harley motivational tour. Good for him. Seems he purchased his first motorcycle just a few years ago — a Harley — and he is (openly) enjoying his mid-life crisis.

I understand the Harley experience story, and get it, but my perceptions are shaped by different personal experiences — including riding a traded 350 Yamaha as a young adult in Rhodesia turning to Zimbabwe. My housemate had purchased one of the first modern-era “rice rockets” — (or sport bikes, often derided by Harley riders) — ?a mean and fast 500 cc Kawasaki Ninja. I thought his bike was much cooler than mine, but (on returning to Canada) decided to forgo motorcycles until two “mid-life crises” — one in my early 30s, and the second when I was 46. In the first, I sought out to experience the “chopper.” Without the money for an expensive Harley, I purchased a rather mean-looking Triumph — which I could barely maintain — but which served me well during my transition from work as a civil servant, to real estate agent, to the start of my current business (in 1988). Then, at age 46, temporarily flush with cash, I went out and purchased a Kawasaki 600 Ninja — a darn fast bike, one of which I was truly afraid to ride hard until a few years later, when (about age 50) I learned how to break all the traffic rules and blast along 80 km roads at 160. Reckless behaviour for a guy with a wife and son, and obligations, I realize, but at least I got it out of my system. I still want another bike — but it is a toy, and when I get one, it probably will be another rice rocket, or if (as I expect) I want a somewhat tamer experience, I’ll purchase a sport-tourer — a motorcycle that is less elegant and fast, but more comfortable and a lot less costly than a Harley.

mark on motorcycle
That’s me — this time on a 600 Honda CBR — in Los Angeles


This stuff is long-winded to readers not into motorcycles, I know, but the point I’m trying to make here is that life experience is highly individual, and while (as Staver notes) most of us fall within norms, not all of us take the same paths. In my case, I’m probably way above the life-skills creativity/risk curve than many (Africa, bikes, self-employment) and way below ?the norms than most at others (social/group interaction skills, maturity, perhaps.)

Staver has obviously discovered how to tap into the corporate/keynote speaking mindset, and (with this capacity) can sell his services at business-class prices. For example he encourages clients to use online psychological assessment tools priced at $500 per test. I went to the service provider’s site — no prices mentioned (always a dangerous sign that the service is expensive) and discovered links inviting consultants to sign up as local distributors. Okay, this indicates markup on markup on what should be a near-free service (after all, how much does it really cost to run an online portal with standardized tests — think Craigslist.) We’ve resourced our own tools and personality evaluation options at prices of about $25.00 per test (and appear just as valid) and, more recently, negotiated a trade-out with a consultant for unlimited free use of his equally effective personnel evaluation tool. ?But I’m not a bank with a few million extra training bucks sloshing around.Staver's promotional page for his 41-day motorcycle tour

Wait? Am I not buying Staver’s message because, well, I’m a coward? ?Or am I simply being a too-harsh skeptic? Certainly I didn’t speak with him personally and he certainly delivered an engaging presentation, which might have been more effective for me if I had actually found a partner to do the high-fives and thus really could get into the experience.

On the other hand, maybe there is an argument that we should be careful in applying group and corporate psychological models to individuals. I “get it” that you don’t need to push and you will never succeed by driving others to do what you want by forceful rather than respectful (yet firm) leadership.

But I don’t want to ride a beastly, overpriced Harley. Give me a fast and nimble sport bike, any day.

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