A withering assault, carved from an earlier age like a river flowing against an earthen bank, has cut away at the ambition of the American salesperson and of the American people. Over the last 30 years, I have seen the life-altering effect of this on playgrounds and sales teams—no goals, low achievement motivation, even laziness.

I’ve seen kids receive trophies and applause after losing. At one game, my grandson was told to let up on the competition so they could score. He was told that his best was getting in the way of the other kids having a good time. I have also seen these new cultural norms affect initiative and aggressiveness in sales and sales leadership. There are rapidly disappearing ambitious traits in the character of new reps and their coaches.

The erosion began as a small trickle and was hidden in those returning from World War II with the horror of the time behind them. It occurred at home, in schools, and in government. The pursuit of a noble aim began to wash away in the currents of pop psychology and having “what I want now.” Its assault was powered by the self-esteem movement, comfort and low expectations. The struggle and sacrifice for a better life was replaced by ease and a low-demand culture.

I think it is important that you read Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukainoff’s book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Here are a couple of quotes from the book:

“Teaching kids that failures, insults, and painful experiences will do lasting damage is harmful in and of itself. Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate.”

“By shielding children from every possible risk, we may lead them to react with exaggerated fear to situations that aren’t risky at all and isolate them from the adult skills that they will one day have to master.”

The Truth About Sales

Sales is not an easy profession. It’s difficult—especially moving toward people we do not know in order to get them to spend money on something we say is good for them. Salespeople experience rejection, people saying no, and people disagreeing with them. Salespeople experience setbacks from lost sales, customers, and income.

Now, take a coddled young adult that has been protected, taught that he is perfect and should not feel distress, without ambition, or doesn’t have a reason to achieve goals and push through setbacks, and toss him in the real world of sales and watch what happens. As the authors say, that person experiences anxiety, depression at high levels, and looks for ways in their day to escape from the pains and suffering normal to any form of real goal achievement.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen those attending sales training enter the room without goals—without a strong desire for something better in the future. I blame this on cultural factors that create a debilitating force on our nation’s children and young adults. They pound away at their tender and moldable spirits and leave children in adult clothing with a lack of commitment, a lack of perseverance, and a low motivation toward personal goal achievement. They do not know what being an adult really means in a broken, tough and demanding universe.

The following cultural forces have had a surprising and detrimental shaping effect upon a person, and for the purposes of this article, a salesperson:

  • Protective parenting and a self-esteem obsession instead of the character traits of self-control, hard work, and the willpower to achieve a dream (please read Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance; or Roy Baumeister’s book, Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength; and Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success)
  • No parenting or mentoring at home with most of a person’s education coming from the advice of a young and unwise peer group portraying inauthentic and perfect lives on social media platforms.
  • The lack of ambitious sales leaders who work to help their reps improve, receive recognition, and earn higher incomes.

A Growth Mindset Will Change Your Life

I want you to be aware of the forces seeking to cut strength from you. I want you to know that you can fight the current of these forces and win. You can change. You can get stronger and better, and you can persevere to achieve important goals. You can be an adult.

I was one of the baby boomers with a father out of World War II. In many ways, I fought to be a child. It was not until I was married and with my first kids that life, and the God that formed it, forced me to look at myself and change some pretty poor character traits. I can say today that the way was tough, and sometimes I didn’t know if I could make it through. But I did, and my wife and my sons can tell you that I’m better on the other side of those times. You can coach yourself and those who want to grow into better habits. With hard work, you can transform.

Discovery Questions of a Growth Mindset

Now, I want to introduce you to some powerful questions that show if you or the salespeople you lead care about transformation, change, and the importance of goal achievement. The answers to these questions will prove if you or someone else wants to grow and get better.

  • Can someone trust you to pursue important sales results—ones that impact your life, the lives of the people you work with, and the company that employs you?
  • What’s your goal? Really? Where did it come from? Who gave it to you? Is it yours? Is it daring and emotional for you? Do you have a passion toward its achievement? Is it a survival goal or a better lifestyle goal with results that will be better than the present?
  • Are you authentic about wanting it, or are you posing as a professional salesperson and a person with ambition? Are you excited about tracking progress toward your goal? Can you show me how close you are to reaching it? Can I hear the emotion in your voice as you explain how you monitor your success path? Are you making adjustments when you fall behind?
  • Are you following a plan? Have you asked for advice about the steps you should take in your pursuit of it? Have you done your research? Have you put together a list of goal achievement actions? Are you checking them off?
  • Do you believe you will reach your goal? How do you fan the flames of your faith for the emotional strength required for its completion? Who or what are you receiving support from? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? How do you react to setbacks, disappointments, and slow progress?
  • Did you feel your confidence rise when someone gave you advice about how to succeed? Are you celebrating small wins, advances, and positive changes in your habits? Do you celebrate progress and visualize a wonderful future accomplishment and a better life?

Take your time answering these questions. Your honest and reflective thoughts may cause discomfort, but they will show you if you care about the future, a dream realized, and what money will be used for—how much will be important for a better life. Remember to recruit coachable people who already appreciate a hard work ethic, personal responsibility, and an authentic desire for results that make a difference for the company and for themselves. It is paramount that you recruit conscientiousness and character first.

You Have What It Takes

I want you to know this. You can grow. You can coach. You can coach yourself and you can coach others into new attitudes and new habits of excellence—excellence at home and in sales. You can be better.

I am not perfect today, but I am better. And I have seen the evidence of changed lives with higher sales and incomes on many well-coached sales teams.

Get real. Get specific about what you want. Be ambitious. Do not be surprised by the forces against you. Fight and struggle to push opposition back. Work in the moment with an eye and heart for those around you: your customers, your co-workers, and your children. Keep reminding yourself about the vision of the future ahead.

Achieve your goals for the benefit of others, and, if you have a spiritual side, think of it as for the glory of God. For all the rest, it will be for your company, for your loved ones, and for the benefit of those around you. They need you to be the best you can be.

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