A couple of years ago I read a book about RAF fighter pilots in World War II. One particular passage stood out. It was this: There are old fighter pilots and bold fighter pilots, but there are no old, bold fighter pilots. The author was making the point that the very best dogfight pilots were young, because of superb eyesight and lightening reflexes. What do fighter pilots have to do with the world of business? Not much, although their courage could surely come in handy in several C-suites.
Here’s my point. Bold should never stand on its own, nor can bold be singular. We don’t want airlines, oil riggers and gas pipeline distributors acting bold. We know the downsides of this corporate behavior; we’ve witnessed the effects of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf, and some of us remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Caution is the operative word.
But, in no way should this discount the power of boldness. Bold needs a qualifier, a partner. Let me give you an example of this in business leadership. Donald Trump is bold. So is Howard Schultz. These guys are as different as night and day. Trump is thought of as a bold narcissist, a bully. By contrast, Schultz, Starbucks CEO, is strategically bold, entrepreneurially bold, and imaginatively bold. He’s been that way for 35 years. His boldness works like a charm for his customers, his employees and his shareholders.
In business, bold needs a partner. Here are 5 worthy qualifiers.
- Strategic Boldness. Weak, wishy-washy strategies have no place in 21st century business. Reach for the stars and you won’t end up with a handful of mud.
- Bold Entrepreneurship. Sorry folks, this is a bit of a given. I’ve never seen a successful entrepreneur known for cautiousness, have you?
- Bold Innovation. The bolder you are in the search for innovation, the more likely you are to unearth the big idea. I’ll compare this to the “fire, ready, aim” approach of innovation. Try it, adapt it, and then get it right.
- Bold Visions. You’ll never find a breakthrough idea for your business if your goal is to increase sales by 4 or 5%. Think 100%. Which of these targets has the best chance of finding a way to deliver a 50% increase?
- Bold and Virtuous Leadership. Honor and honesty not only strengthens a bold leader, it impacts every follower and makes the effort worthwhile.
Bold is a 4-letter word that should never stand alone.