Recently, I reached a major milestone in my golf game. I joined a group of 40 men playing golf on Thursday nights at a local country club. Each guy put $15 in a pot, and, then, played 9 holes. That evening, with men I didn’t know, I shot a 34. It was their lowest score of the year.
For the last 3 years, I have been pursuing a 9-hole score of under 40—something I had only done once with very limited playing experience around 35 years ago. Recently, I have left the course several times with a 41, 42, 43, 41, etc. I have been just a few shots from my target, and, on the practice range, in between business appointments, late at night, or early in the morning, I’ve practiced what has kept me from a sub-40 score. There have been tons of putts on the green, lots of videos watched, hundreds of balls driven with my driver, and lots of balls pitched, or as they say chipped, to a flag from just off the green. In other words, many different forms of practice at what was keeping me from that sub-40 score along with the ups and downs of small wins and big disappointments.
But then it happened. Using the same ball for 9 holes, leaving it where it landed, and not moving it for a better lie to hit from, I crashed through the 40 goal and all the way down to 2 below par—a score of 34. I believe that much of my problem was mental at that point, but the most important help to keep me going was having an outcome that was important to me. The next day I shot 38 on the rest of the course with an eagle on a par 4.
Making Goals Specific and Emotional
Because I made the goal emotional to me, I was willing to sacrifice time and effort at achieving it. I even hired an ex-marine for two days a week to put me through an exercise program to strengthen the muscles important to a golf swing in my legs, back and arms. It meant something to me just like all the other movements forward each year. It’s a small accomplishment in the great life adventure we’re all on, but it was emblematic of a problem and a cure in sales team performance I want to discuss with you.
Today, I called my nephew—a talented young man and sales rep for his company. I’ve been meeting with him for months, because he wants to leave his sales job and be a fishing guide, coach, and entrepreneur with a huge following and YouTube audience. He has such a passion for fishing and teaching others to catch big fish—50+ pound catfish, striped bass, and muskie.
While I was researching and thinking about this article, I realized he didn’t have a target, a goal, an outcome, or a date for when he would leave his sales position and continue full time with his fishing business dream. He’s been working hard with a dream in mind, but he doesn’t have a goal.
The call was quick. He’s very smart, and he immediately realized the problem in the first few minutes of the call. He sees how not having a goal has led him to a plateau with unnecessary discouragement and an inability to track the goal to see his progress. We’re going to meet soon to remedy this, and, as we finished the call, I could hear the excitement for the meeting rise in his voice.
How to Start Having a Goal-Focused Mindset
Most of you do not have goals—clear targets you’re shooting for with dates and your own emotion and passion attached to the numbers and outcomes. You’re like golfers working hard for other people, making an income, but not shooting for a flag in the distance that, reached in the right way, will make all the difference for yourself and the people you lead.
This situation has always been present in sales leadership and within the people you see all around you. Life passes, and we’re no closer to the target that we didn’t have than we were before. This leads to little progress toward important outcomes, discouragement, frustration, misplaced anger, or even a resigned passivity. Even highly competitive people who win experience this lack of ambition for a dream out into the future.
If we’re leaders, we’re leading sales reps to goal achievement without having goals ourselves. Before we look at the research, think about the answers to these seven questions:
- What are your goals? (The ones you set for yourself—not the ones given to you by someone else.)
- When will you pay off your debt?
- When will you reach a certain level of savings?
- What clear targets will tell you that you have financial freedom, and when will you meet them?
- What goals do you have for improving your home and your living conditions?
- What goals do you have for your family or to support your children?
- What is your team’s sales goal? (The one that was set by your team—not because they gave you a goal to get you off of their back, but because they want to reach the goal they gave you to be competitive or meet income needs tied to a better life.)
Very few sales leaders or salespeople have goals. The best do, because they have an intense need to pursue outcomes and results as an intrinsic desire to make what they do better. And what they do is lead the pursuit of goal achievement for the company’s health and for what helps the people they lead.
Here is what Elliot Berkman says about goal motivation in his research paper The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change published in the National Library of Medicine:
“An increase in your value and desire for a goal-related behavior and a decrease in your value for specific goal-defeating behaviors will lead to increased motivation and related behavior change for you as a sales leader or a salesperson.”
The first lesson is that the neural mechanisms of goal achievement in the future are tied to the past and to deconstructing the reinforcement pathways leading away from the futures we desire. The second lesson is to understand that there are connections to what we believe, value, and think about ourselves and the futures we choose. We can change our identities. We can identify as people different than the identities we chose before. We can set new goals with new identities and find reinforcement and training that helps us achieve and live with a higher level of competence and joy.
Yet most people do not have goals. It’s the number one problem in sales leadership, and it’s getting worse because of addictions, considering ourselves already perfect, or feeling good at the moment. We’re not caught up in the transformation, work, and struggle to build a better tomorrow for ourselves and those we lead.
You can change this by being a real professional leader. Evaluate your past and present—your real identity, your real numbers and behaviors. Set goals to make your life remarkable and transformative, and, while you’re at it, help others do the same. Transform yourself with the outcomes and new habits you find important for the team and the family you lead. Get specific about the goals to reach the behaviors and habits you need to adopt for yourself as a sales team leader. Stop doing what leads you away from your goals.
Do this for their benefit and to make you better for the value you deliver to the world as a professional leader, coach, and as a member of your family. With that as your focus today, and with clear goals and dates for the dreams and sales culture you desire to pursue and build, you will find the integrity and responsibility of this approach toward leadership will win you a self-worth in life ten times higher than you experience today. This will happen as a natural side benefit as you grow and elevate the well-being of others as the focus of your efforts and the goals you work to achieve.