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The Inspiration of Fear

07.16.12   |   Sales Recruiting   |   Christopher Simone, Vice President at Treeline Incorporated

Why doesn't fear motivate sales people? Or does it?

Bob Knight, the now retired coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, once said, "Right here is the key to success in coaching. Probably no motivational device I've ever come across is as good as this." He was holding a bullwhip.

Did fear motivate the Hoosiers? Bob Knight led the Indiana Hoosiers to three NCAA championships and eleven Big Ten Conference championships. He was also recognized as Coach of the Year multiple times. And the bullwhip... it was a gift from a player.

So, why doesn't fear motivate sales people? Or does it?

Fear of losing the sale

Fear of losing top ranking

Fear of losing a commission

Fear of losing respect

Fear of losing pride

Fear of losing the job

Fear of no longer being the favorite

Fear of letting a loved one down

Fear of not making enough money to pay the bills

Fear of not selling enough to reach quota or goal

Yes, these are powerful sources of fear. Yes, sometimes this fear can be translated into activity, and activity into productivity. However, external attempts to sustain (sales) organizational progress based on the inspiration of fear at some point fail. First of all, not every leader can pull it off like Bob Knight. Second, organizations must endure beyond the tenure of any given leader.

The inspiration of fear is not sustainable because it is not external. The inspiration of fear is intrinsic; it is something known to a certain breed of sales person and athlete. External attempts to harness this source of progress are fleeting, even if sales managers could manage sales meetings while brandishing a bullwhip.

Sales Managers can use "The numbers" as a motivational tool because they are measureable, tangible, and visible. But this is not enough and certainly won't push the intrinsically driven producer past any threshold s/he is already destined to reach. Fear is the science of negative consequence which, at best, only works within a culture that leverages positive consequence.

So, it's about culture because it's about people inspired to do more.

"The ability to deal with people is as purchasable as a commodity as sugar or coffee and I will pay more for that ability than for any other thing under the sun." - John D. Rockefeller

Inspirational sales managers engender trust through honesty, hard work, candor, and humility. They resist the temptation to crack the whip too often because the cost is too high and the benefit is too brief. Cold weather enthusiasts know not to lick chapped lips for the same reason. Inspirational sales managers know the numbers and use the numbers (as of course they should); they also celebrate success, reinforce the positive, and demonstrate a vigilance and discipline in how they make it about the team and not themselves. Inspirational sales managers create and sustain environments that enable information sharing and that encourage risk taking. Inspirational sales managers inspire results by fostering self confidence. Jack Welch once said, "Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act".

Inspirational sales managers "do belief" because it works, and they inspire others to do the same. They don't "do fear". Again, certain leaders have an edge that is effective. Bob Knight was apparently such as leader and he demonstrated some of the other positive attributes that we have discussed.

Another interesting lens to measure effective leadership behavior is glassdoor.com. For example, glassdoor.com publishes an annual list of top rated CEOs; the data is garnered through current and former employee engagement on the site.

Interestingly, Apple's Tim Cook is #1 on glassdoor's "Top 25 Highest Rated CEOs 2012" list. Tim has been described as soft spoken, thoughtful, and humble. His approval rating is 97%. This is quite an accomplishment given the fact that Tim followed Steve Jobs.

Fear is fleeting, true inspiration is lasting. Just look back in time and think about the best manager you ever had; the one with whom you did more. I bet it wasn't about fear.

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