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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Keeping Talent Under Wraps: Are You Caging Your Lions?

caged_lionWe are dealing with a broken elbow in our house. My 9 year old son had a moment of misguided confidence and felt “certain” he could slam dunk a basketball. He is a 54,” 58-lb fourth grader and learned quickly that he cannot dunk.

It is a nasty break and very close to his growth plate. So my extremely active “Let’s go 250 miles an hour all the time and never sit still except to eat when mom makes me” boy has seen his activity level come to a screeching halt. Doctor’s orders: No basketball, no soccer, no field day, no recess, no jumping, and no running… to put it in perspective the weekend before he did his first 5K in 23:15 and now his doctor is telling him he can “walk slowly.”

Unfortunately, I am no stranger to broken bones. My younger son broke his leg on a trampoline a few years ago—a very different break, and a very different child. He loved taking it easy! He watched more Scooby Doo than I should admit as a parent, he colored pictures, watched some more TV, and the healing time passed relatively quickly for him. It was more natural for him to relax. He is a more easygoing kid to begin with.

This time, with this son, it is not so easy. Every day, every hour, every minute is an excruciating reminder that it is not natural for him to sit still. Each week when we go for an x-ray his doctor says, “I know, buddy. I can see it in your eyes, you feel like a caged lion—and I get it.”

The lessons I am learning in all of this are not only about sports limitations and trampoline safety (though believe me, I’ve learned those too!). For me, it is also another lesson in how hard it is to coach “unnatural behavior.”

Every day I work with sellers and managers who are coaching them with one goal in mind:  turning talent into performance. Talent refers to our natural behaviors and our natural abilities. The talents we have define who we are, what we do, how we work, where we succeed, and why we’re valuable. It’s all about our talents… the more we use our talents, the more successful we’ll be.

The desire to move at a fast pace is a talent! It is a natural behavior. Go to the mall and look around. Some people are booking it, others are strolling. It would be unnatural for either type to try maintain the pace the other type prefers.

Our job as sales managers is not to try to change nature! Our job is not to put in what nature left out—but to bring out what nature put in. So how do you coach the unnatural? How do you get a roaring lion to sit peacefully still without going mad?

Perhaps you can picture this lion on your sales team. He comes to work every day ready to go! He has one speed, which is about 250 miles an hour; he is persistent and productive. This individual is goal-directed and internally driven to get things done. How do you think he feels inside when his momentum is interrupted by a sales meeting? How does he feel when it is time to sit still at his desk and enter a ton of orders? Is he screaming inside? Most likely, because for him, it’s like asking a freight train going full steam ahead to slam on the breaks and wait for a turtle to cross the tracks.

How Do You Manage this Level of Natural Intensity Without Getting Frustrated?

  • Unless he is under doctor’s orders to sit still—let him move! Talk about specific goals and expectations and then step aside and allow him the opportunity to over-achieve. The faster he moves, the more productive he feels, the more successful he is likely to be.
  • Offer the necessary support. Have an assistant enter the orders. Have someone else proof orders for him. Try to limit his paperwork as much as possible, so as to allow him to keep moving and keep generating sales.
  • Keep your meetings with him as brief as possible; make them stand-up meetings when possible. Excuse him from long meetings he doesn’t need to be a part of. Outline objectives in advance of your one-on-one meetings so you can “get down to business” and get him back on the street selling.
  • When you can’t get out of his way or shorten the meeting, offer understanding. Tell him, “I know this is going to be hard for you to sit through…” and then explain why it is important. What is he going to get out of it? What is in it for him?

In the case of the elbow at our house, I am constantly talking about what’s in it for him… “Sitting still now means soccer and basketball in the fall. Chilling now means no surgery and less physical therapy.” I’m offering condolences—“I know it sucks. I know it is hard. Do you want me to watch Rocky with you again? Let’s play Uno cards” —the list of distractions I am using is long and tedious for me. It reminds me to caution the managers I work with about how important it is to put people in the right positions: To do everything possible to avoid having to coach unnatural behavior in the first place. To keep one eye focused entirely on the fit of the position you are hiring for. You can work around unnatural behavior to a certain extent – but it’s hard. It is exhausting for everyone involved, and it just doesn’t feel good.

We are counting down the days until the cast comes off, the therapy is completed, and this boy can run. Don’t put yourself in my shoes. Barring an injury, this situation can be avoided! Pay attention to fit.

If you need a quiet movie watcher, look for an easygoing, relaxed kid. If you want a hunter, look for a lion—and be prepared to get out of his way.

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