Do We Really Need Brass Balls?

Along with the notion that an entrepreneur has to be a ruthless warrior, there’s another metaphor that gets used a lot for small business owners–you’ve gotta have brass balls.

Apart from the irritating implication that only people with certain kinds of plumbing get to be successful, once you start meeting a lot of extremely successful people, you realize that this “requirement” is completely bogus.

I’ve done quite a bit of work with a gentleman who founded a billion-dollar company. He’s about as decisive as a squirrel trying to cross the street.

He’s prone to massive anxiety (and creating the same in the people who work with him). He makes a lot of fear-based decisions. He can be a little hysterical.

He’s also smart, resourceful, knows his customer incredibly well, and has boundless enthusiasm and energy for his business.

I’m not going to speculate on the makeup of the man’s testicles, but I don’t think anyone would use the term brass.

I know another entrepreneur, a woman who runs a top-of-the-line consultancy. She manages a team of 20 coaches who transmit her expertise to her clientele. She’s better than anyone at what she does because she’s more empathetic and more perceptive than her competitors, so she creates better solutions for her customers.

Is she a confident, self-assured businesswoman? Sure she is. Does anyone tell her she has brass balls? I suppose it’s possible, but that’s probably the last way you’d describe this woman’s warm, elegant style.

For various reasons, I’ve come into contact with many people at the height of success. They vary quite a bit. Some of them are megalomaniac control freaks. Some of them are head cases. Quite a few of them are low-key, quiet types that you would never guess made millions of dollars a year.

Success requires a commitment to consistent, focused action, and the ability to figure out the right kind of action to focus on. It requires either luck or talent. (If you’re lucky enough to get both, you can make it happen faster.) Usually it requires mentors, or at least good models.

Brass balls, however, are entirely optional. You have my permission to succeed wildly without them.

(Yes, I know the picture is of brass bells. But sorry, I am not going to sully my nice blog design with a photo of trucknutz.)

Comments

  1. R.A. Porter says:

    I dunno…you could have used an image like this one of jingle bells
    ;)

    R.A. Porters last blog post..At least my friends are having success…

  2. Michelle says:

    That was an awesome post. It was made all the more awesome by the very last line. The word “trucknutz” is going to have me snickering all day.

    Your description of the first business owner (anxiety, fear-based decisions, can be hysterical) hits pretty close to home. (Like, nail-on-the-head close to home.) So it’s cool to read about somebody who is successful despite those faults.

  3. Completely agreed, Sonia! Running through walls won’t get you far without a cool head that tells you in which direction to start running. Or jogging. Or walking. Success comes in all flavors and brass balls are not a pre-req.

    (But, in times of trouble or with particularly ineffective strategies, stubbornly running nonstop can sometimes be a band-aid that gets you through…but it’s only part of the equation)

    Jared Goralnicks last blog post..How to get to work, now. And some inspiration from Mr. Murakami.

  4. Well said, and very refreshing! I’ve had more than my share of this tacky phrase.

    You should consider doing a guest post on Womenwise Marketing … I love your perspective, and it would be very much at home there :)

    Kelly Watson | Womenwise Marketings last blog post..Women: Is Being NICE Harming Your Business?

  5. Sonia Simone says:

    Michelle, I actually think the nut case anxiety-ridden entrepreneur is more common than the calm, cool & collected variety. Long live the creatively neurotic!

    RA, not bad at all. Although the bells are prettier, you must admit.

    Jared, agree that a good streak of stubbornness can be useful. At times, anyway. It always seems to be a matter of knowing when. Also helpful to turn apparent flaws into strengths, when we can.

  6. Alison says:

    Great post! And it really pinpoints something I’ve been thinking about lately . I recently started my freelance writing business and I read tons and tons of stuff about how to be successful, what not to do , how to do x, y, z and I followed the advice I thought was useful. Now, a few months on I’m finding that I’m tired of being told I ” should” do this or that and , as you point out, I must have balls of brass to get anywhere . Enough already!

    I’ve noticed this has started to creep into Twitter and other social media too. Yawn.

    Bottom line – I want to do work that is meaningful to me and of service to my clients. I can only do that in a way that’s consistent with who I am, not by pretending to be some kind of writing warrior…( hmm, on the other hand, that’s kind of cool…) so if people will kindly keep their trouser parts out of my business, I’d be grateful.

  7. Susan says:

    Love it! But I think luck is really just a combination of refining your craft, endless persistence, being annoyingly stubborn, and timing.

    From experience, I know I’ve succeeded with the brass variety of balls. It’s more about being naive enough to think I can get the job done. If I truly sat around and considered what I might not be capable of or have the experience for, I’d never get a blog post up or my travel guide books finished.

    Susans last blog post..Free writing workshops

  8. Susan says:

    Yikes, Fruedian slip! I meant WITHOUT the brass ball variety.

    Susans last blog post..Free writing workshops

  9. Heather says:

    Thank you for permission to continue being the anxiety-passionate person I am! It’s nicer to take the small steps as I’m ready instead of barreling through on something. ‘Course, I’ll still stand up for what I want, so maybe not brass, but a bit of cajones.

  10. It’s this kind of blog post that keeps me coming back ;) Sonia, I love your writing style which is why I send all my clients to your email course.

    Oh and I agree with the comment above re just being naive enough to think you can get the job done…sometimes thinking too much is a detriment to success……now where did I leave my bells?

    Edmund Pelgens last blog post..Business Portfolio

  11. Joanna Young says:

    You are so refreshingly to the point Sonia! I love the pen portraits of the successful people you’ve given us here… reminding us that’s what they are – people, warts (and the rest) and all

    Happy New Year!

    Joanna Youngs last blog post..The Theme for January: Audacity

  12. James Hipkin says:

    @Allison “I want to do work that is meaningful to me and of service to my clients. I can only do that in a way that’s consistent with who I am, not by pretending to be some kind of writing warrior …” This is the perfect response to Sonia’s post.

    I have also had the good fortune to meet many successful people and the one thing I believe they have in common is the confidence to be who they are. It doesn’t matter if they are monkeys or self effacing introverts they put all that aside and focus on what they are after.

    The Other James

    James Hipkins last blog post..Effective Business Communication – PowerPoint

  13. Sonia Simone says:

    Love you all.

    Completely agree with James. Alison, I think your attitude is the source of real success.

    Susan, I remember hearing some advice about getting published–you need luck, talent and persistence: pick two. I always liked that.

    Edmund, you are so kind, thank you!

  14. Karen Swim says:

    ROFL! Sonia, well said and so very true. Whew! Breathing sigh of relief that I can keep my gushy soul and still be a major success. :-) I am convinced that the creator of this phrase did not have them either.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Dazed and Dissatisifed in Corporate America

  15. chris zydel says:

    Hi Sonia,

    Well that post certainly nailed it for me! I am an anxiety ridden nutbasket with loads of compassionate empathy and sensitivity and I’m often told that I am “too nice”. And I am actually fairly successful. However, I always thought that I was successful in SPITE of those qualities. This post really turned my head around and got me appreciating myself in a new way. It’s amazing how those old cultural stereotypes continue to hold up in the face of tons of evidence to the contrary.

    Thanks, as always, for your deeply insightful work.

    chris zydels last blog post..The ART OF INNER CLUTTER CLEARING: MAKING ROOM FOR WHO YOU REALLY ARE

  16. J.D. Meier says:

    I like to go for the gold … but I guess brass is OK too.

  17. Alison says:

    @James Thanks for the kind comment. I do sometimes feel like a lone voice in the wilderness – which is why Sonia’s original post hit home for me. I know the best work I do happens when I can be myself rather than trying to follow someone else’s path.

    Now…if only I could translate that into more clients (-;

  18. Sonia Simone says:

    Glad to provide a hangout for us soulful anxiety-ridden nut jobs. :)

  19. Gennaro says:

    It’s an over-rated statement that’s popular with employers who aren’t great with management of people. Being skilled, thoughtful, and communicating well will relieve the need to be overly “tough.” Yes, it’s needed at times, but it should be the rule. It should be the exception.

    Gennaros last blog post..Passport Cards Speed Border Crossings

  20. I’m definitely more of a honey than a vinegar person, and I have faith that I’ll be able to grow my little blog being nice – most of the time!

    Vintage Mommys last blog post..A Big Milestone and a Small Milestone

  21. Kelly says:

    Sonia,

    Well, I guess I’m going to have to be the defender of brass balls.

    I liked the post, and it is important to realize that lots of folks get there without, but I’m a woman who’s always appreciated having that said about me, and I must say that I’ve known far more people in positions of traditional “success” with, than without.

    To me “brass balls” isn’t stubbornness or running non-stop; it’s guts, outspokenness, a thick skin, and determination. Sometimes that can come off as hard-edged. Which is funny because it doesn’t go with the term at all. But I digress.

    Sure, there are folks who are successful without these things. But I’d say you’re going to get there faster, easier, and with a lot more of your self-esteem in tact, if you develop those brass ones.

    So I stand for the defense.

    And if you’d like another read, dancing all around balls but never touching them, check out Women and the Vision Thing in the Harvard Business Review this month. (You can only get a preview for free online. Believe me, it’s worth finding a copy of this article at your bookstore or library. The jist of it:
    subordinates say women haven’t got Vision, because—I’m paraphrasing—they don’t lead with balls. Which results in not being able to further their careers. After generations of women have fought for the right to their “own” management style? What a kick in the… ouch.)

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Yogi Berra on Maps?

  22. James Hipkin says:

    Sonia,

    Your post got me thinking about success. Specifically, how we define success is important relative to how we feel about our personal style.

    For me success is having the respect of my peers. Since my definition of success isn’t tied to material things I don’t always have to always “go for it.” Now I’ve probably missed out on some things, let some opportunities go to others, but I sleep well at night and have a long list of friends I’ve gained over the years. For me this is more important.

    James Hipkins last blog post..What the Three Pigs Can Teach Us About Writing Recommendations

  23. Mary Cullen says:

    Well said! Authenticity, competence, manners and clear communication are the traits I see in most successful people. Brashness is optional.

    Mary Cullens last blog post..The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words from Copyblogger

  24. Kelly says:

    Oh, Sonia, can you please fish my comment from mod when you get a moment? Thanks. :)

    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Yogi Berra on Maps?

  25. Sonia Simone says:

    @Kelly, on you they look good. :)

    @James, more and more I’m coming to think that having a definition of success that makes sense to us is the key to the whole thing. Know what really matters to you, and focus on that. The rest of it will fall into place.

  26. Kelly says:

    Heh. Thanks. They’ve served me well!

    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Yogi Berra on Maps?

  27. Sonia Simone says:

    @Kelly, I think (and I bet you’d agree) that it’s about what feels good for you.

    Interestingly, I like the idea of being a brassy, ballsy broad much more than I like the term “brass balls.” Language is a funny thing . . .

  28. Kelly says:

    Sonia,

    LOL, and I’d rather not be called a broad!

    Comfort in your own skin is absolutely going to take you farther than trying to be something you’re not. I agree. :)

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Yogi Berra on Maps?

  29. HA! I love this post!

    Ruthless Warrior micro-manager control freaks are people of any gender who let their Inner Critic (self-doubt and fear) guide their leadership.

    True leaders are guided by their Inner Wizard (intuition and inspiration). Many of them are those low-key, quiet types that you would never guess made millions of dollars a year. They just easily and effortless go about creating their dreams using the power they have within. They seek to inspire rather than to control others.

    Yes, they are committed, consistent, focused ‘doers’ who know that power, or empowerment, is the key to success not force – er, brass balls.

  30. Hey Sonia,

    Wuttup!

    You and I both know exactly who popularized this term and have discussed him before. This comment must fit in with the 10% you don’t like.

    Just a couple of nights ago I was listening to one of his masterful presentations where he was telling the crowd at the beginning of the event to be very wary of dismissing ideas because they don’t pertain exactly to you and your situation.

    His premise is that you can find any idiot on the street bring him in and they’ll be able to find a way to poke holes in an idea. Real genius lies in looking at a someone’s business idea, success principle, a belief and make it work for you.

    Like you have with the “ballsy, brassy broad”.

    This also helps you avoid the negative emotions that come with saying someone is “wrong.”

    Being focused on “how something is wrong” rather than “how can I enhance, improve and adapt this to me” makes a world of difference in the state of mind you’ll be put in.

    You and I both embrace the power of language. One way I see to re-frame brass balls would be to call it assertiveness.

    For years I would never state my preferences. I went along with whatever I thought the person I was scared of upsetting would like. I waited for others to tell me what to do. I was dying inside.

    I used my “just wanting to get along” wuss behavior to protect me from confrontation. What I found out and knew at my core was that I teach people how to treat me.

    While I never wanted to be at the one extreme of being an “asshole” I always felt anger towards myself when I wouldn’t stand up for myself.

    A resource that helped break out that cycle was a book called “When I say no, I feel guilty” by Manuel J. Smith.

    He called what he did “Assertiveness Training.” It shows people how to overcome the manipulation some people in society try to work over on you (mechanics, parents, friends, bosses, spouses, etc.).

    If you haven’t already, you should check it out. If you don’t need it’s guidance you’ll come away with solid advice to pass on to someone special in your life.

    Talk soon,
    Note Taking Nerd #2
    http://www.mynotetakingnerd.wordpress.com

    Note Taking Nerd #2s last blog post..Are You Coming Across as Too Much of a Smarty Pants To Your Prospects And Customers?

  31. Faisal.K says:

    Although i think success as we define it these days requires a lot of as you put it” balls” and being at the right place at the right time your post was refreshing for someone like moi who has been often told to quit being so nice.

    “How to succeed books” and what not are just that…mumbo jumbo to make a few more bucks.

    Here’s to blasting more cliches :P

    Faisal.Ks last blog post..Atving the dossier

  32. I think every one over here have said loads of good things.. The thing that I would like to say it this is very good posts I have came across

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  1. [...] read a great post from Sonia at Remarkable Communication (highly recommend her blog) about the “brass balls” syndrome. That is, the constantly trumpeted [...]

  2. [...] About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication. [...]