When I was 12, I was fortunate to play third base for a team that won the city championship. Before each game, you could hear and see the spirit of our team. I want you to imagine a bunch of 10-12 year-olds hanging on a dugout fence singing a ballad about, “Well my uncle Snort he’s sawed off and short. He measures four feet two.”
At the top of our voices, and with our still-forming lungs, our song filled the baseball park. Parents of the opposing team stopped and watched, and those in the refreshment stand, smiled and gazed in our direction. Across the diamond, our opponents looked on with amazement, and I believe respect, perhaps even fear.
As I look back, I realize that many of our games were won before they began. Years later, when my son reached the same age, we relived my youth in a group of Little Leaguers that ended their season with a record of 17-2. Instead of singing before each game, we worked through drills as a team. Each player was cheering for the other as balls were flying around in an orchestrated pattern—a well-honed choreography.
As the game approached, we ran around the field as a unit with no one player out running the other. Midway through the season, parents from an opposing team commented about how difficult it was to beat a team that knew each other so very well and seemed to have so much fun.
Create a Winning Environment
In both instances, do you know who fabricated those wonderful environments? The coaches did, and the power of it swept through the teams and into their bats and hearts. I was lucky to remember and appreciate the coaches of my youth and the character strength they built in each of us through hard work, encouragement, and a simple urging to give our best on the field.
Whether their teams are behind or ahead, competitively outclassed, or leading the field, great coaches develop a winning spirit of goal achievement among uniquely different human beings. These coaches continually build commitment, hope, and passion into people.
Some coaches coach well, but they struggle with recruiting talent. As a result, their teams do not contain clones of perfectly-birthed performers. Instead, they contain people with ordinary skills who achieve goals beyond their abilities. Other coaches, perhaps recognizing their own coaching limitations, recruit well, and they manage their talented people into winning teams.
Whether coaches recruit well or coach well, great coaches create a winning spirit through an environment in which individuals thrive and accomplish their best work. These coaches do not motivate people. Instead, they create motivating environments, with shared goals, in which people want to grow and work together. Each person accomplishes more on the team than they do alone. Great coaches infuse a spiritual vitality into work—a winning way wrapped around three main areas of focus: Commitment, Hope, and Passion.
It begins with goals, an endpoint in mind, and clear job descriptions. It also starts with a “push the boat off from shore” and a “do not look back” decision about what a coach stands for—about what he or she wants the team to stand for. Standards are clear. The direction is certain.
In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland, a great coaching moment occurs between Alice and the cat.
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
Alice: “…So long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
You see, Alice didn’t care about results or commitment to the future. She just wanted to get somewhere. Do you want to get to a specific performance and income level, or do you just want to work hard? Which is it? In other words, what level of performance or income is important? Write it down. Having commitments means being specific about responsibilities.
The great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once commented, “The great majority of people are “wandering generalities” rather than “meaningful specifics.”
Both the cat and Zig tell us to stop wandering around and pick somewhere to go. On a great sales team, new hires can smell the certainty of direction, the clear and confusing signals, and the “here’s what we’re about” purpose of our organizations. This brings them into a place of inspiration and gives them a destination for their hope. For even in the dark places of caves and wells, everyone looks for the light, wants out of the darkness, and desires to be where clarity makes opportunities more certain.
The goals are before us and the targets are well-defined. This means more than a scoreboard, which only tells us where we end up. For high-activity sales professionals, it means working to achieve an income level, a sales goal, a closing percentage, and an opportunity ratio. Team members know where the coach stands and what is important. The values are clear: Honesty, Hard Work, Personal Responsibility, Customer Satisfaction. Processes are simple and followed, but they are not above being changed. Processes are built to help people achieve commitments—not for the sake of processes.
On world-class teams, people speak the truth in one-on-ones, and, in meetings, they face reality while understanding the consequences and rewards. They report profit and loss and compare them to their personal or team goals. Most importantly, whether the coach has great people skills or not, each person on the team knows their coach is committed to both their personal success and the team’s success. This is never in doubt.
Great coaches believe the individual and the team will win. What they do and say when behind or ahead of goal or whether near defeat or after a loss, builds confidence in eventual success. They keep Hope alive in those around them.
People are not perfect. They are imperfect. They make mistakes. They lose their way, and their leaders guide them back to safe harbors even when they have to help reps find new leadership and employment. Great coaches will do this in a manner that helps them keep their dignity and honor as a person.
When reps remain in their care and under their leadership, they show belief in them. This is not to say that they coach in a King Arthur’s Camelot world of unreality. No, great coaches are realists. They have a healthy amount of skepticism, but if they commit to a rep as a team member, they will always do and say things to help the rep succeed even in the face of great difficulty and slow progress.
When reps remain on the team, they know that during mistakes, when behind goal, or after forgotten commitments the coach still believes they have what it takes. They may not enjoy the coaching process during these times, because it may not be an experience that feels good. But at the end of it, they know the coach cared about them and did things to protect their hope while they grew stronger at their responsibilities.
Hopeless teams, or individuals, seldom pull victory from the jaws of defeat. When hope diminishes and we stop reaching for life, it ebbs away from us faster than before. As coaches, we have an obligation to create an environment that inspires people, gives them hope, and creates a path for a better future. The best of us, although we may be fighting to believe in the light ahead, still endeavor to keep encouragement at high levels for those we lead.
With this hopeful spirit carried away from the office, salespeople walk through just one more door. They pick the phone up more times per hour. Their voice inflections cast belief into a prospect’s wavering decision. They win more often, and they keep the faith.
How do great coaches go about their work with passion and energy? You can look at them and see the working spirit of committed Hope. You can see the early morning rise and the late evening commitment when the load is great on everyone.
They do not count the hours at work. Why not? Why don’t they count them until 40 hours have passed by and the bell rings to go home? Why not stop when the five o’clock rush begins? Why not slip into the crowd with the rest? Nothing wrong with that right? Wrong.
Leaders do not allow a sense of entitlement, and a 40 hour week, to creep into their soul and wear away at the fabric of their character. They weather tougher times, longer hours, and sacrifice when it is necessary for the greater good. Real leaders do what it takes to protect their families and those in their care.
Go and find William Danforth’s book I Dare You. Originally written in 1936, it is still sold by the American Youth Federation, or you can find copies at Amazon. The 37th edition was printed in 2002.
In this wonderful book, Mr. Danforth, the founder, former chairman of the board, and president of the Ralston Purina Company, writes to his salespeople about leading executives:
“But I do find one common attribute in every one of them. That is energy. I think if you look at the propelling force of any successful executive, you will find it is energy. True, you may find an occasional person who has succeeded in spite of the lack of energy, but for every one of such you, you will find 20 or 30 have succeeded because of it.”
Yes, great coaches fan the flame of passion and salespeople by their own example. With an intense work ethic, they throw themselves into the tasks and thinking at hand in an effort to win the day. They engage their emotions, thoughts, and actions toward achieving a sales goal. They accept the responsibilities of a sales budget and the care of people needing training, encouragement, and someone to lead the way. They even take on serving in the attainment of another person’s needs and wants. They cheer, they challenge, and they confront to help out in the battle for results.
When real leaders speak, it may not be with great oration or with a gift of fine words, but it is with strength, commitment, and hope. They know what they believe in, and they go about work with the passion of a patriot. Their purpose is clear—do their very best right now with what they have and for what they believe in, and they direct this passion to help the team and each individual successfully achieve passion, hope, and commitment for the benefit of others.