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Author: Gary Frey

Changed Life

A vulnerable conversation from 1995 that surprisingly went viral in 2017…

Changed Life

“What do you do for a living?” I was asked by another soccer dad on the sideline. I wanted to lie. I was unemployed in a new city & embarrassed.

Six months after moving across the country, my job vaporized. A few months later with no income, I was living on fumes with two little boys & my wife depending on me.

I felt like a loser. As I watched my 4 yr-old play “swarmball” with his little teammates, I wondered how I would provide for my young family. Honestly answering the soccer dad’s question was almost too much. I paused.

“I’m unemployed.” I ashamedly replied. (Lying would have only made me feel worse.)

“What’s your background?” he asked. “I’ve turned around & run advertising agencies.” I responded.

“Send me your resume. We just reengineered the marketing department for a large bank. They’re looking for someone like you.” he said.

At one of my lowest moments in my life, a complete stranger’s question had the potential to dramatically change a desperate situation. Had I given into the pride that was tempting me to lie, I would have missed it.

Within a few weeks, I had a job offer with a raise & a signing bonus. Crazy.

20+ years later, that soccer dad & I are still friends. I thank God for the kindness of a stranger & for the unexpected blessing of swallowing my pride.

(NOTE: This post launched on LinkedIn on 11/20/2017. By 12/31/2017 it had been viewed by 8.28 million people. Amazing.)
Outward Focus

Mind Whiplash for Overcoming Stage Fright: Focus Outward vs. Inward

Outward Focus

A comment card from many years before was tormenting me again… “Gary is better 1-on-1 than in speaking in front of a crowd.” My take: “He sucks at public speaking.”

As I was preparing to serve as the emcee at another 2-1/2 day retreat with hundreds of notable business owners & their spouses, I was being haunted by stinging (& true) words from my past.

I felt like Moses must have felt when he was asked by God to go back to Egypt & deliver a speech to Pharaoh. Moses replied, “Oh, my Lord,…I am slow of speech & tongue.”

As I poured out my fears in prayer the night before our retreat, it hit me: “A servant isn’t to be concerned about how he is PERCEIVED. A servant is to focus on SERVING — not on how people are perceiving him.”

Mind whiplash: Focus outward, not inward.

At the retreat, I fought hard to focus on SERVING our guests in my emcee duties rather than how they were perceiving me. When I would see someone in the audience tune me out, I forced the thought, “Serve them!” Not, “How am I doing?”

Amazingly, as I shifted from how I was BEING PERCEIVED to focus on how I was SERVING, I started having a blast.

Those pesky post-event comment cards? Many commented on how welcome I made them feel & how natural I was in speaking before an audience.

If they only knew…

Insight CXO helps bring clarity and alignment to people, strategy, execution & cash flow in measurable sprints across the organization — from the management team on down. We’re here to serve.


Address These 4 Questions & Unlock Greater Opportunities for Growth…


Besides success, what did Hugh McColl & Sam Walton have in common? They walked among their troops. They personally sought frontline input.

Management ALWAYS sets the tone.

In every successful company in which I worked or advised, C-Suite members routinely walked among the frontline & sought their insights.

They didn’t outsource it to HR or Marketing. They weren’t isolated in their ivory tower.

If you are serious about scaling up, deepening employee & customer loyalty, gaining more freedom, & having more fun along the way, here are 4 questions to address from the 5th Rockefeller Habit*:

1) Are ALL of your executives (& middle managers) having a Start/Stop/Keep conversation with at least one employee weekly?

2) Are the insights from employee conversations shared at your weekly executive team meeting?

3) Is employee input about obstacles & opportunities being collected weekly?

4) Do you have a mid-management team responsible for the process of closing the loop on all obstacles & opportunities?

If you are actively addressing these, congrats! If not, we’re here to help.

*Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller.
Executive Health

Four Questions to Evaluate the Health & Alignment of Your Executive Team*…

Executive Health

Looking for ways to help realize your company’s growth goals? Here are four questions to evaluate the health and alignment of your executive team:

1) Do your executive team members understand each other’s differences, priorities, & styles?

2) Does your executive team meet frequently (weekly is preferred) for strategic thinking?

3) Does your executive team participate in ongoing executive education (monthly is recommended)?

4) Is your executive team able to engage in constructive debates and are all members comfortable in participating?

If you are looking for outside help in strengthening & aligning your company’s executive team, we’d love to help.

Insight CXO helps coachable CEOs inspire leadership, accelerate growth, and crush the competition. We bring clarity and alignment to strategy, people, and execution in measurable sprints across the organization – from the management team on down. Our goal is to help you double your business (or more) in three to five years.

*Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller. #1 of 10 Rockefeller Habits: “The executive team is healthy and aligned.”

So, What if Yours is “Brand D”? Try this…


Don’t panic but ponder this: Our minds are filled with ladders. Unfortunately, there are only three rungs on each category ladder that really matter.

I’m not sure if there is scientific proof of the three-rung theory that is central to the marketing classic, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” but anecdotally, I’ve found it to be true. So much so that since 1990, Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book on the subject became “must reads” for my employees and clients.

My paraphrase of their premise is this: People have “ladders” in their minds for pretty much everything. The tough part: there are only about three rungs on a ladder in which people can remember or that matter to them. If your company or product brand isn’t one of those three, you are pretty much hosed from a market share standpoint.

Think about it for a moment.

What are the three top cereal brands that immediately come to mind? How about the top three pest control companies? What about the top three motor oil brands? The top three life insurance companies?

If I asked you to name the top seven in those categories, you’d likely have a tough time getting past the top three or four.

If your brand isn’t in the top three, what do you do? According to Ries and Trout, you set up a new ladder – create a new category that resonates with your target audience AND one that you can ideally own the top rung.

A fitting example is NyQuil. The cold medicine category already had three brands on the top three rungs of the ladder before NyQuil came on the scene. What did they do? They created a new ladder: “NIGHTTIME Cold Medicine.” Simple. Brilliant.

If you haven’t read, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” as part of your brand positioning strategy, I highly recommend you do. Looking for outside help in addressing your company’s brand positioning as part of your growth strategy? We can help.

Soccer Team

3 Powerful Business Lessons from a Colombian Superstar Turned Coach…

Soccer Team

To everyone else, Hugo Galeano (#4) was a Colombian soccer superstar. To my son and our family, he was a defining and positive influence who exemplifies the lasting impact a great coach can make. Hugo’s actions gave me three timeless lessons that I’ve tried to embody when I am coaching other CEOs and their teams.

In Colombia, Hugo was a superstar athlete and national hero. He had it all – skill, speed, money, fame. He eventually left Columbia after the 1998 World Cup – years after the tragic 1994 World Cup in which one of his teammates was murdered for an own goal. When we met him in 2001, he was living in Charlotte far from the notoriety he enjoyed in Colombia. He was still playing soccer at the USL level with the Charlotte Eagles but he was also coaching a group of 12 year-old boys. One of those boys was my son.

1. A great coach isn’t focused on himself – he’s focused on the team he’s coaching.

Hugo was a Colombian hero and his native language wasn’t English. In spite of his fame and difficulties with English, he clearly communicated to all (kids, parents, and other teams) through his HUMILITY and ACTIONS that this gig wasn’t about him. It was about the kids – individually and collectively as a team.

2.  A great coach sees the potential in others and helps THEM see, believe, and achieve it.

At first glance, many of the kids assigned to his team weren’t the top athletes in the league. My son was a goalie initially largely because he could wear cool gear and not have to run as much as the others. In one of the early games, he was scored on unmercifully. Yet, Hugo saw potential. He helped my son see the potential he had within himself. Under Hugo’s mentoring, I saw my son develop a passion and belief that he could become a great goalie. He blossomed into an intensely focused, accomplished athlete who excelled as a goalie throughout high school and college. He is now an active CrossFitter. Hugo was the coach whose wisdom, humility, and encouragement unlocked my son’s potential and positively impacted him, his team, and our entire family by his example.

3. A great coach facilitates daily discipline and short-term milestones to realize the team’s ultimate goal.

Hugo tapped into the individual and collective goals and dreams of the kids. With those goals and dreams set as the destination, he encouraged THEM to find the drive from within to adhere to the daily discipline of the fundamentals so that when it came time to meet their competition, they were ready. They set long-term goals, worked on short-term tasks, and worked together as a championship team because of it.

Does your team have alignment in your long-term goals? How well are they working together on the short-term priorities necessary to reach your long-term goals?


Three MindShifts for Turning Setbacks into Triumphs…


Setbacks. I don’t know any goal-oriented person that loves them. They delay us. They frustrate us. They can derail us. Or, they could become an opportunity to shift into something far better than we could have imagined.

I used to love the challenge of running marathons. I trained for years in high school and college as a sprinter in swimming so the challenge of endurance racing on land was something completely new and exhilarating to me. Plus, running gave me the chance to get outside and see more than lane lines, walls, and lap clocks.

One day, after getting only a couple of miles into a long training run, I developed an iliotibial band (IT band) issue that made it impossible to run beyond a mile without debilitating pain in my knee. I tried everything I could to keep pursuing my passion for marathons but it quickly became apparent that my body just wasn’t going to cooperate any further – at least without some much-needed healing and a course correction.

1.  When a setback comes and muscling through the pain doesn’t work, it’s time for a change.

My wife could sense my growing frustration and ensuing crabby disposition so she encouraged me to join her for a spinning class at the Y one Saturday morning. In my arrogance, I thought sitting on a stationary bike in a room full of women was well beneath me. But, since I couldn’t run, I acquiesced. Boy, was I an idiot. That spinning class kicked my butt. (The instructor was aptly nicknamed, “The Machine.”) After 45 minutes, I was humbled. In the middle of an embarrassingly sizeable pool of sweat covering the floor, my legs that were used to hours of pounding the pavement felt like Jell-O. These women led by “The Machine” schooled me. However, I had NO knee pain! I had to go back for more. A new challenge captured my imagination.

2. Humbly embracing wise outside counsel might set you free.

Little did I know that heeding my wife’s suggestion would become the springboard to my next fitness passion – cycling and ultimately, triathlons. Had I not listened to a trusted coach (my wife) who could objectively suggest new options that I had missed (or ones I was simply too proud to consider), I could have settled for likely path of lethargy, greater frustration, pity, greater injury, etc. Instead, she popped me out of my mind-rut and launched me into a new season of fitness goals, challenges, friendships, and really rewarding experiences.

3. Lessons learned from one setback can help you conquer the next one. (And yes, as long as you are alive, there will be more.)

The lessons I learned from my “coach-for-life’s” loving course correction has helped me weather far more challenging and consequential business challenges that eventually came my way in my business career. When I have had my dreams or goals repeated sidelined by my own mistakes, the actions of others, or the simple misfortunes of life, I’ve had to aggressively seek new potential opportunities beyond the setback. Having outside trusted counsel has certainly helped propel me into new possibilities I simply wouldn’t have considered on my own.

What setbacks are you currently facing in your personal life or business? How have you been able to lead your teams beyond disappointing performance and spring into something that has been surprisingly positive? How is your business coach helping your team unlock new possibilities that could be even more rewarding than your previous direction?


Why Settle for Networking When We Can be Connecting?


What is the first reaction you have to the word, “networking”? Is it positive or is it negative? What about the word, “connecting”? Do you have the same reaction to it as you do to “networking”? If not, why not?

Perhaps it is just my own idiosyncrasy but more and more, I really don’t like the word “networking”. For some reason, it seems pretty cold and “me-focused” whereas “connecting” seems to be warmer and a whole lot more collaborative to me.

This article isn’t meant to offend those who love “networking”, fancy themselves as “master networkers”, or those who love “network marketing”. My goal is to take a closer look at the nuances and hopefully draw all of us into more introspective look beyond the semantics.

The “networking” call out of the blue that makes you wonder, “Why are you REALLY calling me?” I remember meeting a guy at church a long time ago when I was struggling to connect in a new city during a difficult time in my life. That same afternoon, I got a call from my new acquaintance out of the blue. For a moment I thought, “This is great. I just met this guy. It is nice to know that someone could sense my pain and actually cares about me.”

Unfortunately, after we got past 30 seconds of pleasantries, the REAL reason for his call became apparent. He had a “business opportunity” for me. (Actually, it was a “network marketing business opportunity” that was apparently more about how I and others in his “down line” could benefit HIM.) When I asked him if it was “insert your favorite multi-level marketing name here”, he finally came clean. It made me wonder, “If what you have is so great, why do you have to disguise the kind of company or even the name?”

Granted, not all network marketing “opportunities” are bad nor are all networkers or network marketers self-absorbed. It is just my experience that the vast majority of these “networking” calls are rarely altruistic or collaborative. They are often highly conditional. As long as I buy (or have the prospect of buying) what you’re selling, you’ll be there for me. As soon as it becomes apparent that I’m not buying what you’re selling, crickets…

But I’m in business development. Don’t I need to be networking? Even before I had an official role in business development when I was running companies or working within Fortune 100 companies, I was interested in building bridges, forging relationships, and looking for opportunities to collaborate. I think it is more fun to collaborate than to be a solo performer. (That’s probably another reason I’m a drummer. I think drums are at their best as part of a larger ensemble.)

People have often said I’m a natural networker. I used to embrace that term until I had seen the dark side of “networking”. Unfortunately, I’ve seen “networking” at its self-serving worst also destroy trust, relationships, and even a company that I really loved. As a result, my repulsion for that term continues to grow.

Because I’ve had (and still have) the responsibility of bringing in business for my company, I get the fact that dollars must still roll in as a result of my efforts to forge relationships and help others. However, I don’t believe connecting with others must be a quid pro quo deal where it is, “As long as you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I also don’t believe it should be a zero sum game that says, “Only one can win so I must win and you must lose” or “If you win, that means I must lose.” I’ve worked with people who actually behaved as though that was an immutable law of the universe and frankly, I reject that.

Is it possible for me to genuinely seek to serve or help someone else and still ask for assistance without hiding “the ask” or making my assistance conditional? Call me naïve but I say, “Absolutely!”

Not that I’m a master at this because I’m ashamed to say that at times I’ve been pretty self-serving in my efforts to “network”. As I’ve reflected back on such times, the root cause of descending from “relationship-building” (or “connecting”) to a more self-serving, “networking” mode has occurred when I’ve been under pressure to perform, close a sale, or just make something happen quickly.

Even though I’m a natural relationship builder, I still have to be especially cognizant of my motivations when I’m under high levels of pressure to perform. I’ve found that in such times, I must be intentional and ask myself these two questions:

  1. “What is my motivation for making this connection?”
  2. “Am I willing to help and/or serve them even if they aren’t buying what I’m selling now or down the road?” (NOTE: That seems to be the fundamental question that separates “networking” from “connecting”.)

Once I know the answers to these questions, I find that I’m usually in the frame of mind that I can make it clear and honestly address why I’m trying to connect with them. If I am connecting with them in hopes that they can help me directly or help connect me with someone who can help me, I try to tell them that early in the discussion.

I think people value authenticity and often genuinely like to help others. I know I do. In such times of overt political correctness and sanitized language, we’re seeing a backlash against career politicians because clever sound bites and outright lies are getting really long in the tooth. I find myself respecting someone who just gives it to me straight (even if it hurts) far more than someone who tells me what I want to hear but either doesn’t follow through or even worse, does the exact opposite of what they told me they were going to do. Authenticity is refreshing. Seeing people unselfishly serve others without strings attached is beautiful.

Here’s a recent example… This past spring, I had just finished a several-month consulting assignment in Cleveland. While we appreciate the relationships formed and many experiences we had during our 13 winters in Chagrin Falls, OH, my wife and I were itching to return to Carolina blue skies and move back to the city we love, Charlotte, NC. The only problem: My unconventional career path and my level of experience (age) made it rather difficult to turn my online resume submissions into interviews eight hours away from our residence in OH. If I had any hope of finding employment back in the Queen City, it became clear that I needed to head to Charlotte and spend at least a couple of weeks meeting with people, reconnecting with friends, and forming new relationships.

I didn’t think I was really in a position where I was able to meaningfully serve someone in my position as I needed to find a job relatively soon. I began my “connecting adventure” back in Charlotte by merely asking friends if they could help me make some meaningful connections. Before I knew it, my friends made connections for me with other people who were more than willing to help a stranger like me. I am humbled when I think about the grace and generosity that others unselfishly extended to me.

I didn’t go into any of these meetings with the expectation that my friends or their referrals were going to give me the job I was seeking. However, I was hoping to:

  1. Make meaningful connections across the city of Charlotte that might result in long-term friendships regardless of whether or not they led me to the right job.
  2. Serve as a conduit or connector for these old and new relationships so as to help someone else along the way.
  3. Find the right professional fit with a company that needed my skills and had compatible values with mine.

To my surprise, all three of these things happened. My job hunting trip to Charlotte resulted in a six-week adventure filled with 90 meaningful meetings. The bulk of those meetings happened because I had friends who were willing to connect me with others who met with me, heard my story, and thoughtfully connected me with others who they thought might be able to help me in my quest.

Along the way, I met some AMAZING people who genuinely fascinated me. Once I got to know a bit of their story, I was even able to connect some of them with friends of mine who I thought they would click with professionally and enjoy a “win-win” relationship.

Sometimes, when we seek to serve others ahead of ourselves, magic happens. During my Charlotte job hunting journey, a friend recommended that I meet with someone at RGP, a global management consultancy. Even though I initially thought there would never be a fit for me there, I went to the meeting primarily to honor my friend’s introduction.

Shortly after I first met some of the RGP team members and learned more about their company and culture, I introduced two of my friends to RGP because I thought that both RGP and my friends would benefit from knowing one another. I honestly didn’t connect my friends to RGP with any thought that I would benefit from the intro. I did so because I genuinely love connecting great people. It is a blast to connect great people with one another, step back, and watch the magic happen!

In spite of my desire (and need) to land a meaningful role and the harsh reality that my need was seemingly unmet at the time when I made some of these introductions, I remembered the advice that a friend and former business partner told me on a day in which we collectively received some depressing news about a business situation years ago. He said, “Given this news, there’s one thing I really need to do to help get my eyes off of myself and this pain. I need to go serve someone else.” He was known for routinely putting action to those very words and I’ve tried to do the same. His words of wisdom were burned into my mind and they have helped liberate my soul.

Much to my surprise, that “random” first meeting with RGP that was based on an introduction from a friend not only led me to connect two good friends to them, it ultimately resulted in a job for me! In my determination to honor friendships and serve others, I was blind-sided with a blessing that I never imagined would come from that initial connection – a unpublished position that had my name on it.

To “network” or “connect”? That is the question. Now that my current role is largely focused on business development and helping our team grow the Carolinas office of RGP (as well as the global enterprise), I must be deliberate and purposeful in assessing my motivations. Will I compromise and settle for a short-term, often self-centered “networking” approach to developing business relationships or will I choose a long-term, others-focused approach of “connecting” and serving?

Granted, impressive sales performance isn’t guaranteed with either approach. I know plenty of people who are known for churning through people and relationships who routinely get impressive sales results. Even so, I find myself believing that we can still enjoy solid sales results AND build lasting, relationships along the way by seeking to genuinely connect with them versus merely seeing these connections as a means to an end.

I hope that this article will encourage each of us to routinely ask ourselves, “What is my motivation and my approach to building this relationship?” coupled with, “Am I willing to help and/or serve them even if they aren’t buying what I’m selling now or down the road?” In doing so, we’ll likely experience the magic of “connecting” with one another versus simply relegating one other to just another member of our “network”.


A man. A mission. A Motorhome. Life Lessons From the Metamorphosis.


Have you ever worked with or for someone who was an entrepreneur? Someone who seemingly called the non-existent into existence? Someone who could see the potential in others or in new possibilities when the future they envisioned seemed impossible?

If you are an entrepreneur, I think you’ll find some things in this article that will ring true with you and perhaps even bring a smile to your face. If you are less entrepreneurial but are still interested in picking up a nugget or two from a true story of vision, inviting others into the journey, overcoming adversity, and keeping the mission in perspective, stay with me. My dad’s story just might inspire you.

When a leader’s “vision” looks more like a land yacht. One day, my dad rumbled up to our house in the early 1970s in the form of a 1960 Chrysler Imperial that sounded bad and looked even worse. I was embarrassed by the sight of this metal monstrosity but my dad was beside himself with enthusiasm. “We’re going to turn this baby into a motorhome!” he declared.

Granted, I was just about 10 years old at the time, but I wasn’t seeing the same possibilities my dad did in his newest mission. The thing was ugly, ran rough, and was embarrassing to have in the vicinity.

Have you had a similar reaction when your partner, boss, or CEO boldly declares their latest vision and you wonder what they might be smoking? Even so, I think it is truly a gift to “call the non-existent into existence” like so many successful entrepreneurs are able to do.

I realize I’m not a true-blue entrepreneur. I have some entrepreneurial affinity but I’m more of a turnaround guy or an impact catalyst. Even though I’m not quite wired like my dad who was an educator-by-day and entrepreneur-by-night-and-weekend, it can be exciting to be around hard-core entrepreneurs. I especially like being with those are able to effectively recruit others into helping make their vision a collective reality.

Recruit others along for the joy ride. Don’t misunderstand me here. Recruiting others to join you on your journey of “calling the non-existent into existence” isn’t simple hypnosis or coercion. Sure, there are plenty of those who subscribe to this theory. After all, it can yield some impressive short-term results. However, if you want to see people run through walls and do more than they had ever dreamed over a sustained period of time, you have to help them find meaning and purpose in joining you. Provide a healthy dose of fun as part of the adventure and you’re all in for a fun ride.

My dad was able to do that really well. He was really funny. He genuinely enjoyed being around people and seeing them accomplish great things. For him, the mission went beyond the mere accomplishment of doing stuff that others said couldn’t be done or simply transforming basket cases into mechanical works of art. He seemed to enjoy the twisted journey as much as the final destination and didn’t want to make the trip all by himself.

Like my dad, I don’t think life was meant to be lived in isolation. Sure, we need moments of solace. However, I think the real magic happens when we allow our vision to expand and ferment with the active participation and input from others. If you think about it, very few people accomplish truly great things without a little help from some friends.

But you barely have one leg to stand on! All of us face challenges and naysayers. Overcoming adversity is part of life. For some of us, big adversities just create bigger victories.

In my dad’s case, he lost all the muscles in his right leg when he was stricken by polio at the age of 17. In spite of limping through the majority of his life physically, he was outrunning most people on many fronts. The metamorphosis of the 1960 Chrysler Imperial which transformed into my dad’s version of the Winnebago (with the Chrysler’s ultra-cool push-button transmission mounted on the dash) was a great example.

His disability also made room for a 10 year-old son like me to be his helper. Don’t get me wrong, fetching tools, holding boards, gathering equipment on nights and every weekend wasn’t glamorous or even fun much of the time. However, being able to participate in such a deliberate yet drastic transformation of one vehicle becoming something dramatically different over the period of 18 months or so was thrilling. Being able to learn from and be inspired by my dad at such a tender age was priceless. Only now do I begin to grasp what a gift that was.

It’s easy to squash ideas that are outside of the norm or to quickly point out the excuses of why embarking on an uncharted path should be avoided. I think fear of the unknown, risks, etc. drives us to that. However, sometimes all we need is a powerful dream, one good leg, and a willing companion with abilities that complement our own to build something great.

Celebrate the accomplishment without having it define us. Sometimes, especially when we worked so hard to accomplish something great with lots of battle scars to prove how difficult the journey was, it is easy to lose perspective on the accomplishment. If we’re not careful, we can make the accomplishment define us. In doing so, it can alienate us.

One thing I really appreciate now about the experience that my dad and I enjoyed while building the motorhome is how he didn’t allow such a cool accomplishment like transforming a once-creaky land yacht into a rambling motorhome define him – especially for a guy who was repeatedly told he was a bit nuts for trying such a feat with only having one good leg.

We enjoyed using the motorhome after it was built (after the bugs got worked out including a minor engine fire!) and we had some fun times camping in it as a family. I know my dad was proud of it and enjoyed using it but I never got the sense that this accomplishment defined him.

That was underscored when he sold it one day to someone who offered cash for it. I remember the buyer whipping out a thick stack of $100 bills and driving it away. My dad didn’t get rich off of it but he felt like he got what he needed to be made whole. We ended up buying another camper (one that wasn’t as cool) shortly thereafter but it didn’t hit me until I was much older how big of a deal it was for the inventor to gracefully watch his invention drive away.

Have you seen someone who was so wrapped up in their accomplishment that they allowed it to define them? Have you seen them turn what seemed like a noble mission eventually into a vehicle that ran over anyone or anything that got in their way? Have you ever felt used by a visionary who enlisted your help to accomplish their mission only to feel kicked to the curb once the mission was accomplished? I’ve seen it in the business world many times.

I must regretfully admit that I have been guilty of all the above – especially when I was much younger in my quest to build a world-class integrated marketing agency. On one specific occasion, I lambasted an employee with all the finesse of a turbo-charged steamroller as he failed to accomplish MY objective. Our relationship was never the same in spite of my repeated attempts to seek his forgiveness for my insensitivity. Since that time, I’ve made a conscious commitment to never put accomplishments ahead of relationships.

Throughout my childhood and my adult life, my dad proved to me in his actions that he always valued me more than his accomplishments. It is great to celebrate accomplishments and to even savor them. However, I believe that there are more important things in life.

Relationships trump accomplishments. I hope and pray that no matter how bodacious our newest personal or professional mission may be, we will keep that simple truth in front of us.

Dare to dream. Invite others along for the ride. Overcome the detours. Celebrate the milestones. Put relationships in the seat of honor. In doing so, we might just have the kind of positive impact on each other that my dad had on me while we have one amazing journey.


Could Your “Sales Star” Be Silently Shipwrecking Your Company?


In today’s marketplace, it’s all about results, right? As long as you are hitting your quarterly top line and bottom line numbers, your Board is nodding with enthusiastic affirmation, and your market share is growing, all is well. Or is it? Could there be trouble lurking below the surface? How can you know before trouble strikes?

It’s tough to argue with financial performance metrics. However, I’ve witnessed some pretty devastating collateral damage within companies that had once been cruising along quite nicely. Had there been more proactive probes, more effective challenges to the status quo, or a thoughtful expansion of what defined the “measures of success”, disaster may have been averted. Chances are, you have witnessed similar failures as well.

Sales performance is more than the top and bottom line. What is your immediate reaction to the names, Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay of Enron? What about Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom? How about another infamous “Bernie” – Bernie Madoff? Anyone with even a marginal sense of right and wrong has a visceral reaction of repulsion to any or all of those names – especially to the name “Madoff”.

However, you would have likely given a different answer if you knew anything about him before “Madoff” became synonymous with “Ponzi” in 2008 and 2009. Prior to that, you were considered to be among an elite group if you were “fortunate enough” to invest with him. Bernie Madoff had incredible sales performance for almost 50 years! He once was the rock star of Wall Street. The guy was slick. He was polished. He had credentials. He “made” a lot of people money along the way – until the music suddenly stopped playing. At the end of the day, he was proven to be a huckster of gargantuan proportions who trashed the lives of many to the tune of approximately $50 billion.

Under the mirage he skillfully “sold” of deep and rewarding financial waters, massive and dangerous rocks of truth were lurking – underwater boulders capable of shipwrecking his loyal crew and unsuspecting passengers who had entrusted their livelihoods to this once-respected man. Once the financial tide went out, the rocks which were always there – hiding just below the shallow surface – suddenly appeared. In an instant, the bow of Bernie’s opulent, “safe investment yacht” was savagely ripped to shreds by perverted peaks of Ponzi.

The power to influence is not limited to the CEO. Ultimately, those occupying the highest seats of power in your organization can have the most profound effect (both for good and for evil) on your company. However, ANYONE who represents your company – especially front-line sales and customer service people – can wield tremendous power in forming your brand’s perception and reputation simply by the way they conduct themselves day in and day out. After all, we are ALL ambassadors of the companies and brands we represent by how we speak and act toward others. Yet, how often do we measure these behaviors?

It doesn’t require committing fraud to severely damage your brand. Have you known sales “top guns” who consistently shot the lights out of the numbers but eventually, their actions revealed that they were all about themselves? Ultimately, they proved to be more about what YOU could do for THEM than vice versa?

Chances are, all the financial metrics on their performance dashboard were on target. Yet, it eventually became obvious in other behaviors that something was off kilter.

I referenced Bernie Madoff as an extreme example simply to make a point: We should be measuring and evaluating MORE than short-term sales performance if we want to build a company of integrity, lasting value, and long-term relationships with our customers, colleagues, and vendors. If those things don’t matter to you or your company, then full steam ahead with whatever you are doing. Good luck with that.

Are your performance metrics incomplete? Believe me, I value and understand the importance of solid financial performance. Whether we are in sales, management, administrative support, etc., we have to provide a positive return on the investment that our employers, partners, or investors have made. Without profitability, eventually there is no ongoing viability. However, I think we all know there has to be more. Perhaps you are even measuring qualities of your salespeople that go beyond financial performance in attributes such as:

  1. “Trustworthiness” and/or “seeking win-win solutions” as deemed by your customers.
  2. “Collaboration and teamwork” as deemed by fellow employees.
  3. “Exhibits company core values” as deemed by both employees and customers.

If you are measuring things like this, congratulations! Your company likely values more than simple financial metrics. However, in the case of Bernie, he may have still scored highly on all of those. We need to measure those things that can be measured and be on the look-out for other indicators.

At the heart of the matter, it’s the motivation of the heart. I think it is very difficult and even dangerous to try to discern the motivation of someone’s heart beyond our own heart. We can misinterpret others’ motivations and easily be deceived by our own. Even so, I believe it is worth starting with an examination of our own motivations first before we take on judging the motivations of others.

A few questions that we can ask ourselves if we are willing to evaluate our own motivations include:

  1. Am I being driven by my needs and desires (short-term sales targets, quotas, notoriety, affirmation, rewards, etc.) or am I genuinely seeking to put the needs of someone else ahead of my needs?
  2. Am I willing to “do the right thing” even if I must pay a hefty price to do so?
  3. Can my values be bought at a certain threshold? If so, “conviction” is really a “preference” with a price.

Look for the fruit. While discerning the motives of another’s heart is really up to God and not us, examining “fruit” of their actions is less difficult to spot. Jesus himself said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” That doesn’t mean that any of us will walk perfectly. We all screw up.

However, I believe that “fruit” means “evidence”, actions, or even patterns of behavior. Fruit is substance that goes beyond words. Talk is cheap but actions are revealing. While I’m no authority on this by any means, some simple evidences of “fruit” that I look for in myself, salespeople, and anyone who may represent my team, brand, or company include:

  1. How does this person treat those who likely couldn’t benefit them in any way? For example, how do they treat the janitor, the lowest paid guy on the plant floor, the teller, the waitress, or the taxi driver? Do they treat those who can benefit them one way and everyone else another?
  2. How does this person treat their spouse?
  3. If they make a mistake, are they quick to blame others or are they willing to raise their hand quickly and accept responsibility?
  4. Do they expect others to “carry their bags” or do they demonstrate “servant leadership” like opening doors for others, helping clean up messes they didn’t cause, tipping generously when no one is looking, saying “thank you” for even little things, etc.?
  5. Can you trust them to honor their verbal commitments?

A broader definition for success is needed and should be measured. I don’t believe that sales performance must ignore financial results. Without financial performance, a company eventually ceases to exist. However, I believe we can all be well served to raise our eyes and take a broader view of what we are evaluating when we define and measure “success”.

While it is important to give financial performance a respected seat at the table, our companies can increase our chances of creating healthy, sustainable, win-win-win relationships with our customers, companies, and colleagues. How? By evaluating and expanding our performance measurement criteria to align with our stated values.

Then what? Once we have taken the time to define and measure relevant performance metrics that INCLUDE but GO BEYOND simple financial performance, I believe that we need to consistently hire, train, and reward our front-line sales and service colleagues based on these expanded criteria. We also need to pay close attention to the “fruit” exhibited by those who are members of our crew. When the fruit is present, the measurable performance is likely to show up as well.

And what about when our “sales star” who puts up great numbers fails in the other important measures? I believe we must attempt to coach them to success – if they are coachable. However, if they can’t be coached to perform beyond the one trick of financial performance, we need to find the courage to promptly ship them out of the organization. In doing so, we just might save our customers, colleagues, brands, companies, and even ourselves from some serious trouble that may be silently lurking beneath the surface.