One of my previous bosses complimented me in an interesting yet confusing way by once describing me as a “bobo doll.” At the time, I had no idea what that meant or what a Bobo doll was. After she described the doll, I remembered having a Mr. T ‘bop bag’ when I was a kid.
Why a Bobo doll?
When I was selected to be promoted to a management position, I asked my previous boss why I was selected when I knew other vetted candidates had more technical skills. She answered by giving me the “I can teach you the technical skills” speech then proceeded to describe to me the Bobo doll analogy.
She said, “You have the ability to take hits and handle mistakes no matter how difficult it gets. You stay positive, pop back up, and aren’t affected, you’re just like a Bobo doll.” She added, “To be successful in leadership, you have to be able to get back up no matter how hard it gets or how many mistakes you make, and, Jared, it gets hard.” For reference, she would always use my first name in the middle of a coaching point when she wanted it to truly sink in.
After that conversation, I was not as excited that her compliment would ultimately lead to impending doom. She was predicting a mass of future failures I was going to experience and hits I was going to take per her Bobo ‘prophesy’. I thought I was getting promoted for my excellence, not my ability to fail well.
Over the years, whenever I make a mistake or when something doesn’t go as planned, I can’t forget the vision of that Bobo doll. Fortunately, it always “pops back up”.
During my tenure as a collegiate head baseball coach, I taught a Theory of Coaching class where I discussed the book Positive Coaching1 by Jim Thompson. The author often emphasized the term “relentless positivity” throughout the book.
In short, Thompson encourages coaches of youth sports players to never utter a word of negativity ever. This advice sparked great debates amongst college athletes in the classroom. Thompson also encourages the reader to look at every error, failure or mistake as the “lifeblood of learning.” As we all know, learning and developing is the key to growth, and will be our key as we make the executive journey.
Referring back to the Bobo doll, it is important to remember that not only does it pop back up, but it does so looking the same as it did before the hit. It’s ready for another hit, ready for another challenge, it’s relentless.
Pop Back Up
So why not pop back up when you get knocked down? Exercise relentless positivity and pop back up, like a Bobo doll, with the same positive attitude and outlook before you took the hit. We’ve all heard the different clichés about getting back up after you’ve been hit, but more importantly, what do you look like after? Do you look completely defeated or can you pop back up, dust yourself off, and get right back in the fight and be just as confident and optimistic?
Are you relentlessly positive? The C-suites notice. Your peers notice. Your direct reports notice.
I can’t help but stop here and steal from the immortal Coach Ted Lasso2 explaining why the goldfish is the happiest animal on earth because it has “a ten-second memory. Be a goldfish…”
I’ve made errors in my career which caused me to shed a tear while apologizing to my CEO. However, that is genuine emotion, and I’m always private to the appropriate person, never inappropriately public; and always short in term. One thing I do know, all those experiences sharpen us. And while they sting, we can be better for them, we can grow. As an executive, we are in this for the long game and must understand that tackling the next moment or challenge, learning from the mistakes, and being relentlessly positive through the stumbles allows us to succeed forward.
I’m grateful someone was able to put a name to that attribute, I just wish it was a cooler name than ‘Bobo’.