In 2009, Gulliver and I pioneered this idea we had for connection on Facebook.
Everyone else who was in business – particularly, everyone in the coaching space – and on Facebook were all wearing suits and being hyper-professional. I know that’s hard to believe now, but it was totally a thing. When we were all tatts out and swearing like sailors, it was an outrage.
Yeah. 2009 was a simpler time.
The full-on, in your faceness of our ‘radical authenticity’ was all about being us in an extremely loud and intense way.
But we took it a step further, too – we shared a lot of what was going on for us in our journey. We were extremely open and honest about what we were experiencing. We didn’t just curate the highs and make our lives look perfect. We were honest about what it was like to struggle.
There were lots of people who, behind the scenes, warned us against this. They said we’d destroy our business by being too honest. They told us authentic was fine, but that we needed to be “authentic with edits”. This advice wasn’t exactly wrong; years later, I understand what they were getting at, and I’d probably give similar advice from my current vantage point.
But Gulliver and I were working on something, were testing something – and that idea was what we called ‘Extreme Strategic Vulnerability’.
Now, as with a lot of our teachings, I see people taking the idea and corrupting it. Using it in ways it was never intended.
I see ex-clients using and teaching it, but it’s like they didn’t listen to a word that we said; their version of what we do is so completely different.
The key word here is strategic. If you’re being extremely vulnerable and sharing your story for an intelligent outcome, then you’re doing it right.
Here’s the issue I see with people who have learned this strategy handed down from person to person, without the context – Extreme Strategic Vulnerability is NOT taking your need to the marketplace.
If, as I’m seeing more and more, you’re sharing what’s happening to you right now as a way to beg for people’s love and sympathy, you’ll destroy your business.
Because it’s your job to be the leader. And when you’re a puddle on the floor, you’re not able to lead.
Look, we all have puddle on the floor moments – they’re human, they’re necessary.
What isn’t necessary is posting them all over Facebook because you’re addicted to drama and need to hear from 20 different people (most of whom you’ve never met in real life) about how amazing you are.
Facebook, or social media of any kind, is the wrong place to work through your emotional issues. That’s true as a general rule, but it’s true 100x when you’re running a business and your social media is covered in clients and prospects.
This is the often misunderstood difference between tactics and strategy. Processing your knee-jerk emotional reactions by posting them all over Facebook? That’s not strategic. Hell, It’s barely even tactical.
The strategy behind Extreme Strategic Vulnerability is the creation of connection by sharing the sorts of imperfections that a lot of people in the marketplace would prefer to keep hidden.
We’ve always shared our wins, and our losses. We talk about our successful campaigns, and getting screwed over.
It creates a picture of a human being who is flawed – one who has dared to dream, who has fallen short, who has learnt their lessons, picked themselves up, and is trying again.
And don’t we all love a good redemption story? It’s central to our social mythology.
But here’s the problem: when you share your emotional reactions to every damn thing you experience in real time, you don’t come off as ‘a flawed human’. You don’t build a redemption story.
You come off as a hot mess who hasn’t learnt a thing.
Process Your Truth Before You Speak It
We’ve all had that experience of holding something to be the Capital T ‘Truth’ in the moment, only (hours, days, weeks, years) later to realise that our experience was coloured by other things and that perhaps we weren’t being altogether reasonable.
In the moment, what feels like the Truth often isn’t.
That’s one of the problems I have with the whole “intuitive”, “feeling” above all else, cult.
Our feelings are often liars. They’re the result of all of our trauma and hang ups getting in the way of reality. They’re the story we tell ourselves, which is, so often, untrue.
When we’re honest with ourselves, distance can give us that distinction – that we were reacting to something else, that we were projecting our emotions, that there were other things going on in our lives that affected our perception of Truth.
When we lash out on the internet from this place of unprocessed emotion, calling it “truth” and “honesty”, we are being inherently dishonest. We’re allowing emotions and trauma stories to usurp reality.
And, look, that’s a human experience. We all go through it. Even if you’re working really hard on being better, we all react, first and foremost, from our own wounds. Processing takes time.
The point here is not to beat people with a stick for being human, but rather to say this:
If you think sharing unprocessed anger and frustration on the internet is going to help your business because you’re being “authentic”, you’re wrong.
Look, can you attract a following doing that?
Yes. I can point you to 50 people who are doing it right now and making money from it.
But here’s the thing – do you really want just any old following?
Sure, there are people with tens of thousands of followers – but look at what they post. Look at the comments. Dig down below the numbers to look at the context and what you’ll find is followings of people who are similarly addicted to the drama cycle, who are hooked on the adrenalin rush of online conflict.
And let me tell you, from very personal experience, how that game turns out.
When they’re done siding with you, they’ll side against you. Because those people feed off drama above all else. They’ll put you on a pedestal, build you up and then they’ll take great joy in rallying others to help them rip you back down.
When you set your business up to trade in drama, you create your own problems. As the old Jewish saying goes,
“As it begins, so does it end.”
I used to have a Facebook page with over 30,000 followers on it. I shut it down a couple of years ago because I realised the drama and conflict I’d used to build that page had attracted exactly the wrong kind of people to me for where I was going in my life and in my business.
Yes, that page had been central in me making my first million dollars.
But it was also holding me back from growing into the next phase of my life and business.
Leela is a Hypocrite
I’m a big believer in addressing the ways in which you are a hypocrite. It’s why I don’t like people like Mia Freedman, because they refuse to ever acknowledge their hypocrisy and instead pretend as though they’re a bastion of feminism and never edited some of the most problematic publications on the face of the planet.
I’m sure there are those who would read this article and find it amusing.
In the interest of my own dose of Extreme Strategic Vulnerability – I started this business when I was 27. I was young, social media was young. I made mistakes.
Most of those had to do less with taking my need to the marketplace (although I certainly did that on occasion) and more to do with lashing out at people who’d hurt me via vaguebook status updates.
It’s true, I’ve done it – and those weren’t my finest moments.
But rather than making me a hypocrite, I’d say those experiences make me an expert. I’ve seen, first hand, the outcome of that kind of behaviour. And while I don’t regret it per se – to this day, I feel like a lot of the people I drove away were never my clients, and I’m happy not to have them in my energetic space – I acknowledge that it’s not who I want to be.
I’m not some middle-aged besuited corporate type who thinks you should have no personality on Facebook.
I’m a pioneer of swearing, sharing your political affiliations, having your tattoos out, and generally being obnoxious in the online space.
I still do all of of these things – for me, business is about having the freedom to be who I am.
What I have learnt, though, is that who I am in this second may not be who I am in five minutes time. So I try and take the time to process what I’m feeling. To understand it, before I share it.
I follow this same rule in the offline world, also.
Therapy is for dumping your unprocessed shit. Business is not.
You need to find the line for yourself – between extreme strategic vulnerability and what some people call “oversharing” (I’d really call it “unprocessed sharing”, because I don’t believe you can “over” share, anymore than you can “over” give. But to each their own).
Taking your need to the marketplace – asking them to love you, to console you, to coach you, to be there for you? That shit is toxic. And it will destroy your business long-term.
How to Be Extremely and Strategically Vulnerable
The key to Extreme Strategic Vulnerability is typically not sharing things in the moment. As long as you’re still emotional about the issue, if you haven’t fully processed it yet, that’s going to come across in anything you have to say.
You might think you’ve worded the most perfectly neutral post in the world, but the emotions of sadness, anger, whatever behind it will be way more obvious to everyone than you realise.
If you want to work through your shit and process it via writing, keep a journal. Posting that stuff up publicly is toxic. It just attracts other drama vampires to you. And what no one needs is to be surrounded by people who live and eat drama.
For some things, this means that you wait a couple of weeks to write about them.
For others, it might be years.
I had experiences in 2014 that I’m only just writing about now. I’ve alluded to them in posts, but I’ve rarely told the full stories, because I knew I still had emotional issues around them, and I was really aware of ensuring those were fully processed before I started writing.
When you are ready to talk about it, the correct frame is almost always “lessons earned” – that is, it’s not about how you were a victim or what everyone else did to you, it’s about what lessons you’ve been able to take away from the situation and how you’ve grown as a person.
Less complaining, more gratitude.
And that’s impossible to write until you actually have grown as a person, and figured out what your lessons actually are. If you attempt to do this before you’ve done the work, the resentment and anger will seep through every word and page.
Yyou won’t notice it. You never do. You think you’re doing a bang-up job.
But everyone who reads it will be like “yikes”.
You’ve experienced this before – you’ll write an email when you’re angry and there’ll be literally not a single angry word in it. But someone will ask you if you’re okay. And you’ll be confused, because you went out of your way to make sure your anger wasn’t in the writing.
But it was.
This, as a sidenote, is why I smile like a lunatic when I’m composing emails – because your personal energy is captured in your writing. Every time.
Earlier in the year, we had one of our mastermind meetings, and Jenna (my marketing director) and I organised an improv troupe to come in and work with the guys. This came from a realisation that all of us – Jenna, Gulliver and I – had done a lot of drama and improv as teenagers and that this had been central to how we dealt with prospects and clients.
What is sales and coaching if not improv?
One of the exercises these guys took us through was a word-at-a-time story. You’ve probably played something like it in your life – you stand in a big circle, go around and, a word at a time, build a story.
The first few times are always a failure because everyone is busy trying to be the funniest and throw a spanner in the works instead of acting like a team who is working together.
I watched in the event as this happened over and over again, and I saw a reflection of my own leadership failings.
Where had I prioritised being funny over team success?
Where had I prioritised being different and unique over working together?
Where had I thrown the spanner in the works of my own success by prioritising immediate emotional gratification over long-term wins?
The mirror is rarely fun.
But it’s insanely valuable.
And if you can get used to looking in it and taking the lessons, your use of Extreme Strategic Vulnerability can become an insanely effective marketing tool that attracts the right kinds of clients into your business.
Well, every client you bring in will teach you something – and that’s 100x true for the bad ones.