I caught the Marvel movie The Eternals for the second time on Thanksgiving Day. I found it a genuinely interesting look at how different people respond to faith, and what happens when there’s more to your belief system than you originally understood.
I’m not going to talk about religious faith today — that’s personal to you, and not for me or anyone else to comment on.
But I am going to talk about the ways in which blind faith can play a part in digital business, and how to keep our eyes open about that.
The difference between a hero and a cult leader
Authority is one of those cornerstone business ideas, particularly in the content-driven internet.
We wrote a lot about it on Copyblogger, and we even ran a successful private community called Authority.
But we all know that authority can be useful, and it can also be toxic.
Someone who has put the hours in to learn about their topic can be a wonderful teacher. They’ve worked for the authority to teach on that topic.
And teachers are important. If you want to learn how to, say, build out a successful content marketing strategy, or knit a sweater, or teach your dog to come when they’re called, a good teacher will help you learn those things faster and get a better result.
But we’ve all seen this, too:
The most authoritative-seeming person is not always the one who knows what they’re talking about.
At their worst, the scammy authorities use manipulative and creepy tactics to position themselves as the only ones who can save you. (Because you’re so broken that they’re the only ones up to the job.)
The bummer flip side to that coin is that some of the folks who are incredible teachers and could really help you out are hesitant to put their case strongly, precisely because they don’t want to overrepresent their knowledge.
And the third side of this metaphorical three-sided coin is that often, we respond more to the confident message than we do to the quieter, more nuanced message.
When we’re nervous or uncomfortable (and nearly everyone running a business is both, at least some of the time), it’s very comforting to find someone who seems to have it all dialed.
Three things to look for
Rather than bang on about all the crummy people who teach digital business, I want to talk about three traits that I look for when I pick up a course or coaching program, or when I make a recommendation for one.
#1: I look for teachers who are curious
Rather than presenting themselves as the fount of all business knowledge, they talk about what they’re exploring and ways they’ve changed their mind … recently.
I want a teacher who’s still growing and learning, not necessarily one who perfected a “system” decades ago and keeps grinding it out.
#2: I look for teachers who prioritize our autonomy
A good teacher is looking for ways you can flourish on your own, rather than trying to tie you into a dependent relationship.
Partly, this shows up in teachers who respect your fundamental autonomy, rather than seeing you as a cog in their system. Ecosystems are wonderful; codependence is not.
#3: I look for teachers who embrace imperfection
When a teacher is too glossy and weaves their eighteen-figure-launch numbers at us every five seconds, I start to wonder how much they really understand about the hard parts of business.
I also wonder if they’re being … 100% candid.
The thing is, it’s always a matter of balance. It’s hard to place confidence in a teacher who’s a never-ending train wreck and talks endlessly about their struggles.
But a good teacher knows how to embrace their role as the Designated Grownup without making themselves into an infallible superhero.
Three teachers I really like
I thought it might be useful to point to three business teachers I happen to really like. This is a very partial list, but these are three folks who have impressed me recently with great advice, delivered with humility and perspective.
They’re also all people I consider friends, just so that’s on the table. 🙂
I’ve known Pam for ages, after meeting her at South by Southwest when our kiddos were very teeny. I really admire her for the way she navigates leadership and humility, leading with confidence without sliding into the infallible superhero thing.
Pamela has a lot of wisdom to teach, both for digital and brick-and-mortar businesses. She always approaches her topics with curiosity and a desire to know more. She has a new book out called The Widest Net that I’m enjoying a lot. She’s also going to be teaching courses on Maven in the coming year — I’m looking forward to checking those out as well.
You might not know Heather (yet), because she spends a lot more time running businesses than she does creating content. (I’m working on her!)
Heather runs polar expeditions, which means she runs the kind of business that kills people if you don’t do an excellent job. She also coaches established entrepreneurs, and she has a terrific book out called No Plan B.
Heather is another example of a teacher and coach who’s constantly pursuing her curiosity — about business, about the people she works with, and about the world in general.
As it happens, Heather’s also got a workshop coming up on Maven, all about streamlining (or, um, creating) your business systems. I’m on the wait list for that one.
I’ve known Pamela (not Pam) for a really long time, and I was lucky enough to work with her as a colleague for a time at Copyblogger.
Pamela’s a deeply systematic thinker, and she excels at taking complicated topics and breaking them down into manageable chunks. She’s written three books that help you do that — two for content strategy and one for business confidence. She also runs coaching programs and has a cool new YouTube channel.
It’s a little weird that I know two powerhouses named Pamela, but there you have it.
(I haven’t mentioned my two business partners because I want to talk them up another day. 🙂 And there are also a kajillion other great people I also haven’t mentioned. The complete list of folks I think are really good would take you at least a month to get through. But I’ll be talking more about them in later issues.)
Usually, superheroes turn out to just be people
The Eternals movie told a story of mythical figures like Athena, Gilgamesh, Mercury and others who turn out to be flawed, and who have their own complicated relationships with their gods and heroes.
The person you deeply admire has their own stuff to work on. They have blind spots, and they don’t always get it right.
The more humility and curiosity they (and you) can bring to the work, the more helpful they can be as teachers.
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