Four or so years ago, Avanoo was still a new-ish organization, and we were at a crossroads. We’d grown by partnering with hundreds of renowned experts, helping them create powerful video stories, and having them sell those stories to corporate crowds.
But relying on their sales was hard. Our revenue, growth, and impact was inconsistent, and we were losing money. If something didn’t change fast, we were in danger of having to shut down Avanoo. So one of our partners, Brian Biro, flew to Colorado to talk with me.
Brian is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker, and he’d made a lot of money with Avanoo. Financially, he was incentivized to keep things the way they were. But he was also a friend, and he was concerned for me.
Over lunch, Brian asked me a simple question: “Why are you still behind the scenes? You’re the CEO of Avanoo, this is your vision. When you speak… people listen, and yet you depend on all these experts to speak for you. Why?”
I rubbed my eyes and considered Brian’s question. I’d been running organizations for more than a decade, and I’d taken pride in the people we’d helped. Our impact was very meaningful to me – even though I’d stayed largely behind the scenes…
… which was fine if that was my style or preference. But it isn’t. I’m a storyteller and story listener at heart. I’ve been told, since I was a little kid, that my greatest quality was to move and be moved by people. Yet that wasn’t how I’d chosen to lead.
“So…” Brian asked, still awaiting a response.
“I question myself often,” I shared. “I question whether I deserve to lead; I question whether I can be helpful; I question whether anyone would want to follow me. And I am afraid that if I step out from behind the scenes I’ll face an answer I don’t want to hear.”
Brian nodded. Then he shared with me a simple story. It was about an athlete he coached as a US National Swimming Coach. For years, she held herself back; but Brian and the rest of the team helped her to tell a different story. Extraordinary results followed.
He told me I reminded him of this athlete, and he wanted to help me see past whatever was holding me back so I could start leading in the way I felt most comfortable: with my vision, my presence, my stories, my passion.
I remember feeling so much gratitude: I felt seen by Brian, and felt like anything was possible if I could stay in his presence and he could remind me of that story. From that moment, albeit awkwardly at first, I started leading in a different way.
I felt seen by Brian, and felt like anything was possible if I could remember that story.
Over the next few months, Avanoo stopped relying on experts to share our story. Instead, I started sharing our story. And things have gone pretty well since then; we’ve grown and grown, and helped many people and teams along the way.
But here’s the strange moral of this story: I still have the same self-doubt I had years ago. And I still feel hesitant to act in ways aligned with my vision. If it was me alone, even as I’ve seen success, I would probably be paralyzed by that self-doubt.
What keeps me pushing the boundaries of my life to the places I want to go and lead are the continuous stories and support I get from people I believe in, and who believe in me. This impacts me deeply as a person and a leader.
It means that a huge part of my job must be to ensure I give the same kinds of positive stories and endless support that I’ve received… to the many people in my life and my work whose lives and visions deserved to be lived to their fullest.
—Daniel Jacobs, Avanoo CEO & Co-founder
Daniel Jacobs is a husband, father, inventor, and storyteller. His work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Apple News, HuffPost, and most major news publications in the United States. He is CEO and co-founder of Avanoo, which uses the power of stories to drive connection, belonging, and performance in the workplace.
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