When in his early twenties Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at LVMH got a tattoo on his forearms. The tattoo stretches across his right hand and onto his fingers.
In an interview with the Financial Times Ian talks about whether, by getting that tattoo, his younger self wanted to protect him from his potential future self. “The point for me was to never have a job where someone cared if I had tattoos on my fingers,” he explains.
I love that. What a great way of ensuring Ian stays true to who he really is and what he stands for. Prior to LVMH, Ian was a senior director at Apple Music in California. Clearly neither Apple nor LVMH cared about a senior exec having tattoos on his fingers. But some employers might have objected. And that for Ian would have been a sign: if a company had a problem with his inking, then it wouldn’t be the right place to work. His tattoo is a compass. It makes sure he chooses the right path in life.
Ian put the essence of his younger self - his inner rebel perhaps - at the heart of who he was. It ensures he keeps true to it all these years later.
Bringing your inner rebel to work can be empowering, unlocking confidence and creativity. Business school professor Francesca Gino relates the story of an experiment she conducted at Harvard Business School. She taught one class in her regular smart shoes. For another class she wore a pair of red Converse sneakers. Both times she wore a dark blue suit. After the classes, she reflected on what she found. There was a big difference between the two classes that day. In the red-sneakers class the students were more attentive and thoughtful, and they laughed more. “Part of the difference, I realised, was likely due not only to the sneakers, but to the effect (the sneakers) had on me…. I felt more confident,” Francesca says. At the end of the class, she gave out a short survey. The feedback was intriguing.“The students viewed me as having greater status when I wore the red shoes,” she writes.
I relate to that. It’s why I like wearing my Red Adidas gazelles on stage or when leading a workshop. They make me feel more me. And like Francesca, that fuels my confidence.
What I have learned is that the closer I stay to who I really am, the more confident I am, the more success I have. And embracing my own inner rebel gives me an edge.
Of course, tattoos and red shoes aren’t for everyone. But if you want to inject more confidence into your work life, thinking about how you were as a kid or teenager might be a good place to start. What my red trainers represent is my creative spirit, standing up for what I believe in, and infusing fun into what I do: essentially those elements intrinsic to who I was as an energetic and passionate teenager.
A designer recently came on one of my Fuel Safaris. That strong creative and independent outlook he had as a 14 year old - going out with his mates on their bikes, designing logos in his bedroom, the freedom to work when and where he fancies - is at the heart of who he is as a 30-year-old today, both as a designer and someone who’s passionate about cycling.
Our young spirit often gets quashed when we’re older. We think we have to grow up and be serious. By injecting a sliver of our younger selves - whether that’s our adventurous spirit or a desire to go against the flow, or even something quieter but still intrinsically us - it can give us the confidence boost we need. Bringing us creativity, energy and success.
Over to deputy leader of the Labour party, Tom Watson, who wrote this after he read my book ‘Juggle!' back when his party was in government: “Only a reckless fool would rebel against his government on the second day of a general election. I should know, I did. And Ian Sanders helped me achieve this notoriety. An opening paragraph in his book hit me like a slap around the face. So thanks Ian. You helped me rediscover the inner rebel and life is good.”