Spitfire Strategies

Color Me Purple

Dennis Poplin

By Dennis Poplin
Senior Vice President

I was recently clicking through my favorite Tumblr sites when my finger froze mid-scroll. Sometimes, you stop to get a better look or maybe read a caption. Rare is the post that actually makes you stop and think. But there I was, staColor Me Purplering at a Venn diagram and suddenly I was caught up in what it meant for the bigger picture.

The big red circle was labeled “Absolute Narcissism.” The blue one represented “Crippling Self Doubt.” And there in the purple intersection was the word “Art.” In my mind, I renamed the purple overlapping space “Social Change” and suddenly the diagram reflected many progressive leaders in the field I have worked with over the years. In fact, it represented me. Why?

On the red side, it takes a lot of nerve to believe not only that you CAN change the world, but that YOU are the one whose ideas, skills and determination WILL change the world. Maybe not a classical definition of narcissism, but that is a healthy dose of confidence. We’re also convinced that no matter what is going on in the world at the time, what we are working on at that very moment is the most important challenge of the day.  And it must be solved immediately.
However, over on the blue side, at some point (whether after an election, before a board presentation, or even a few times a week), most of us find ourselves thinking, “Holy moly, what have I gotten myself into?” We catch ourselves realizing we are definitely not the hero on the white horse and fearing that whatever we have up our sleeves is never going to be enough to get the job done. We have no idea what we are going to do next and are positive that at any minute someone is going to ask us to return our office key or swipe card. That’s the crippling self-doubt part.

The trick is not to panic and instead keep your eye on the purple prize. Find the balance between optimistic self-assurance and realistic anxiety. In the theater, actors are terrified of forgetting their first line. The fear of stepping onstage and going blank is so great that lots of preparation goes into ensuring everyone involved has the opening scene down cold. Nonprofit leaders have the same need. Ongoing planning, groundwork and training are critical to tempering insecurity and leveraging credibility and skills.

It starts with knowing the basic rules. Learn best practices for communication, including how to build a solid strategy, identify the right audiences, and create strong messages that resonate.  Once you know the rules, you have to maintain the discipline to follow them. Every time. No short cuts. Then you have to deliver on that discipline. That means getting up early to practice before you preach, double-checking everything at least twice, and then reaffirming what you are about to do with someone you trust (preferably before you go do it). Listen to their feedback. Consider alternatives. Then don’t be afraid to be bold. If you put in the work, your confidence is justified – even to your own judgmental self. Now, get ready, pull yourself together and go change the world.

To help nonprofit leaders gain the skills and confidence needed to harness the power of communication and create an impact, Spitfire leads a year-long Executive Training Program. Through in-person sessions and one-on-one consulting, participants leverage their strengths, overcome challenges and learn to lead truly communicating organizations that make social change happen. In other words, they stay firmly in the purple space. To learn more, click here.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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