Ring Lesson #3: Be Fearless
Today I met the brand icon, Martha Stewart. When I was in my 20s, I was intrigued by her. In my 30s, I learned from her. In my 40s, I envied her. Now, at the wonderful age of 50, I admire her. Why? Because she is fearless.
We’ve watched Martha build an empire, potentially fall from grace and emerge (wearing a stylish and sassy poncho) more bad-ass than ever. I use the term bad-ass with the utmost respect. I think Martha would approve because her drive comes from a deep desire to provide her followers with the very same recipes, home ideas, products and “Good Things” that Martha herself wants to have in her own home and life. When it comes to brand authenticity, there is no better example. In fact, she stated very directly, Martha Stewart the person, the company and brand are the same thing. Martha described what she does as “demystifying the difficult and simple.” Curiosity drives her as a person which fuels the company and the brand.
After the general session moderated by the amazing Christine Mau, we had an opportunity to have a more intimate session with Martha. Thirty of us gathered in a semi-circle with eager eyes fixated on Martha. I wonder if she gets tired of the attention, but she was so kind and patient to indulge all of our questions.
Knowing this opportunity was coming, I labored over the last few days deciding what I would ask. This was a unique opportunity to speak directly with one of the most successful business women of our time. Excitedly, I asked the very first question. We sat 10 feet from each other, she turned her attention my way and I said, “Martha, thank you for the path you have paved for women in business. You seem fearless. Is there anything that scares you?”
With a little smile, Martha replied, “No. Personally, I’m probably not likely to skydive. But in business, nothing really scares me.” I was not surprised by her answer and I was not surprised that her answer came without hesitation. Martha Stewart oozes confidence and strength. She's been celebrated for her successes and yes, she’s been criticized for being arrogant. She's been roasted and parodied. With no shame or excuses, she even acknowledged that she's been called a b*&#!. Why? Because she’s direct, she knows how she wants her brand managed and she has the highest of expectations.
As a woman in business, I understand the struggles that come with confidence and direct behaviors. I’ve felt the negativity and I’ve heard the B-word whispered behind my back for the same reasons. As questions swirled around managing this type of situation in the corporate world she said, “It's not a gender thing. It’s not so much about 'leaning-in' anymore. It’s more about doing things your own way with confidence.” It's a fearless behavior and I admire Martha for the leadership.
In all, spending a few hours with Martha at FUSE today was delightful, educational and inspiring. She shared her perspective on leadership, how she has built a culture that fosters creativity and how she finds inspiration through travel experiences. While on a recent safari vacation with her grandchildren, she made a necklace out of water lily reeds. (Of course she did!) Someday she would love to have a pet Eagle. And when asked about a most significant business decision that she made in the past, she cites the collaboration with Kmart. With strategic vision, Martha worked hard to convince Kmart execs that their shoppers wanted, needed and deserved higher quality towel and bedding products. And boy, was she right. Her products flew off the shelves.
Thank you, Martha, for sharing your insights with us. And thank you for the past 30 years of demystifying the difficult and simple. As one last fun note, are you curious to know a few of her favorite "Good Things?" When asked, she cited (1) painting garden tools a bright color so you can always find them in the garden beds, and (2) using a beautiful, stylish bottle to hold basic kitchen soap so it looks pretty on your sink. I agree, those are very Good Things.
I look forward to what comes next from Martha. She shared a bit about a wine club soon to be launched. And I'm more curious than ever about her collaboration with Snoop Dogg. She says he's a really nice guy. Ok, Martha, I'll take your word for it.