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Chris LoCurto

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February 28, 2013

You’re Too Freakin’ Positive!

February 28, 2013 | By | 52 Comments">52 Comments

Motivating team members is a difficult and sometimes daunting task. The need to always be on your game making other people happy and excited can, frankly, wear a person out.

Leadership, Team Membes

Sales team leaders understand this. They know the need to keep the front lines motivated. It’s difficult enough to be on the phone, or in person, day after day dealing with people who have a wall up taller than Dolly Parton’s hair! (I do love you Dolly!)

How do so many team leaders do this? There are many ways –

  • Incentives
  • Attention
  • Pats on the back
  • Competition
  • Free hummus…no?

But one thing that almost every team leader does, is try to motivate a team member by telling them how well the other team members have done.

Especially in multi-level marketing companies, they always want you to get “on fire” by showing you how well other folks on the team are killing it. They’ll send messages back and forth of the incredible sales that have recently happened.

The problem with that is, if all you hear about is that everyone is hitting great sales, then it can be more demotivating than anything. What happens when you have a cruddy day and don’t get anything?

Well, if you have ten messages from other team members who’ve all had stellar day, then you find yourself feeling like a failure. “OH NO!!! HE SAID THE FAILURE WORD!!! WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO USE THAT WHEN MOTIVATING PEOPLE!!!”

Really? Why not? Do we really think that letting someone who’s trying to kill it, know that you had a cruddy day, is going to cause them to have one as well? That’s beyond ridiculous.

I was doing a leadership event many years ago where we were teaching people how to grow their business. At the end of three days, we talked about some mistakes we had made. At that point I literally heard a guy sigh loudly.

When I asked him what that was about, he said, “Finally! You guys have flaws! I was worried that I could never be this perfect.” I laughed and assured him that we had MANY flaws. It’s our flaws that made us great.

When you’re real with those you’re trying to motivate, it is more motivating then when you’re not. YES we want to be positive. YES we want to push negative junk aside. But hearing that you had a bad day, allows me to be ok with my bad day.

It allows me to NOT feel like a failure.

Question: What’s your take on leaders not sharing failures? 

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  • Laura Johnson

    I’ve had leaders of all shapes and sizes :)
    I’m not a person who needs motivation, I do my best regardless. But I’m also not in sales. I know, I know, we’re technically all in sales :) What I mean is, my position does not involve contacting customers and trying to convince them to buy product.
    I do like the different motivators you listed (except the hummus), because of the environment it can create. It may not impact the quality of work I bring to the table each day, but it could possibly impact deciding whether or not to stay at a job.
    In terms of whether or not to stay… it’s not the “motivations” that really influence the decision so much as the “demotivations”. For example, when a leader immediately jumps to the conclusion that a person did something wrong. I’m fine with a leader not giving a person the benefit of the doubt. But ask questions. Always ask questions before casting blame. Always.

    • Laura Johnson

      Probably should clarify…
      When I said I bring my best regardless, I didn’t mean I do absolutely fantastic every day. I bring the best I have that day. And sometimes my best on a certain day is not as good as I’d like…

      • http://caroldublin.com/ Carol Dublin

        Yes – so true. I tell myself “this is what I can do today.” It applies when I’m running (some runs are faster or slower) and when I’m at work (some days are more focused).

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

      What’s wrong with free hummus? Oh, I know, you need the right kind of chips to go with it.

  • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

    I can soooo relate to this post!

    I’ve been on both ends of the sales spectrum….kickin butt and getting my butt kicked. I can promise you that when I heard about other team members kickin butt while I wasn’t cutting the mustard, it definitely made my spirits drop.

    I think the best motivation I had when I was on a sales team came when we focused on best practices. What was working versus what wasn’t working. That always got me excited because then I walked away with new things I could try to help improve the situation.

  • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

    OOOH I totally agree with you Chris – and on many fronts at the same time, not just business.

    I’ve had blow out fights with my wife. Shocker!!! But what’s weird, is that few people seem to talk about those. I was talking with my pastor about it – so fresh from the battle with my wife that I think I was still steaming – but you know what totally made that awful disgusting moment better for me? My pastor opened up and started sharing about a very similar failure and subsequent blow out fight he had with HIS wife once.

    I actually felt relieved when I heard him sharing what had happened to him, and how they had made it through. The deal is this: few leaders have the guts to show other people that they screw up too.

    Maybe people in general have this going on too…but I love what you say about how sharing your failures gives someone else permission NOT to feel like such a flop. Totally.

    I don’t blabber my failures around (that would take too long, hehe) but I am totally free in talking about it with my team members, students and fellow leaders when the situation arises. And I also notice that sorta ‘sigh of relief’ – maybe it’s not an audible thing, but you can sure see it on their faces.

    “You’re a real person!!!”

    I get this all the time – that when friends or family hear my wife and I share about our internal smack down cage battles (ok, a little dramatic) we always tend to get something like: ‘Really!? I always thought you guys had it all together….’

    That’s a bunch of baloney. And I think when leaders (Or anyone for that matter) try to hold up an image of perfection, they are actually setting themselves and their teams/companies up for failure.

    From a Christian perspective, think of all the pastors/evangelists/ Christian leaders who have fallen into scandal over what everyone else needs to battle….porn, adultery, stealing..whatever.

    The reaction is always the same: people have this image of their leaders as being these perfect, spotless, divine beings – incapable of even experiencing temptation like ‘the rest of us.’

    While leaders are required to be examples in their conduct and attitude, they are still real people – and in my humble opinion it’s about time they show it, and followers expect it.

    Sorry for my rant there…but this really bothers me. Great post! Burnt rice :)

    • Laura Johnson

      “And I think when leaders (Or anyone for that matter) try to hold up an image of perfection, they are actually setting themselves and their teams/companies up for failure.”
      THAT IS SO TRUE!! I know from personal experience what the devastation from perfection can look like. I don’t even know what else to say about it on here…(so public)
      What I have realized is, in an attempt to appear perfect/ have it together, people resort to hiding struggles or other things. Those struggles/temptations only gain power when they’re hidden away. Sin, or the potential of, loses its power when it is brought out into the light (not hidden)
      Do have a high standard. But do not strive for perfection. As humans it is unattainable for us and will only result in pain and suffering.

      • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

        What do the say? Strive for progress, not perfection?

      • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

        “What I have realized is, in an attempt to appear perfect/ have it together, people resort to hiding struggles or other things. Those struggles/temptations only gain power when they’re hidden away. Sin, or the potential of, loses its power when it is brought out into the light (not hidden)”

        Totally! Totally! Totally. Hiding stuff only gives it power over you. I have that t-shirt somewhere ;)

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

      Thanks for your honesty and transparency Aaron. I’d add that you definitely need a great level of trust with your team (spouse, kids, friends) to open up and share. Otherwise it seems like you’re looking for sympathy. You are a strong leader who is open about success and failure and I know your team and your family appreciate that about you because I certainly do!

      • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

        Totally agree about needing trust with team, spouse, kids, friends etc. And permission. (I’ve seen people share stuff about spouse, kids, friends, team without permission – MESSY.)

        I also think HOW you share (your motive) matters too. I share when I think it will help someone else, or when I think God wants me to.

        And thank you Lily – I appreciate your kind encouragement! :)

  • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

    Great post brother. I think it all comes down to the fact that to be a good leader, and to lead people, you’ve got to be honest. And let’s be honest, NONE of us have a absolutely fantastic day every single day. NONE of us always give 110% every single day.
    We try, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed (hopefully more so than fail…), but we always get back up. We always try again the next day.
    That is motivation, saying, “Yup, your day did suck today. Good thing tomorrows another day, how do we take your sucky day today and turn it into a better day tomorrow?”
    THAT will motivate people. Because that will give them the tools to work through the crappy days that will inevitably occur. And it is in those days that you really need motivation.
    Motivation is easy when everything is great, its when things go wrong that people need the example of their leaders if they are truly going to be motivated.

    • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

      Nice Mark. I love your perspective! Failure is temporary. It’s not who I am.

      Holding that thought in my head has made a massive difference for me as my family and I have been going through our financial challenges – this struggle does not define me. It’s making me into a better person. And tomorrow is going to be different.

      Totally man.

      • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

        thanks Aaron :)

      • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

        Funny how that struck you and I barely noticed it. Totally true though! Through our pain we grow. You da’ man Aaron!

      • http://caroldublin.com/ Carol Dublin

        Love that idea. Failure IS temporary, at least for good leaders who will learn from it.

    • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

      Well said Mark!

      “Motivation is easy when everything is great, its when things go wrong that people need the example of their leaders if they are truly going to be motivated.”

      I’m making a poster of that.

  • http://jonahenry.com/ Jon Henry

    I think it goes beyond leadership. Just think about school: you’re either telling kids they are awesome, or telling kids they are not (or you’re not telling them anything and just moving them along). Which helps them learn best? I’d tend to be believe finding the awesome in each kid matters.

    As far as the question, I would prefer my leaders NOT share their failure. Rather, I’d prefer not to suffer the consequences of their failure — but the stories and examples of failure is fine by me.

    • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

      I’m reading a book right now by Daniel Pink called: To Sell Is Human – great read, by the way. There’s a section about labeling people as a form of moving/influencing them.

      Pink sites a study done by some researchers in elementary grades. The researchers took three sets of teachers, and three sets of janitors and three sets of students. One group of teachers, students and janitors, were told that they were very neat and a very clean group!

      Another group were told “You must be a neat and clean group! We expect you to clean x, y and z every day.”

      The other group wasn’t told anything. (Control.)

      Guess who cleaned up the best? The group who were told they were a neat, clean group.

      I think that ties into what you’re saying about telling kids they are awesome, or telling them that they’re not.

      Labels matter.

      • http://jonahenry.com/ Jon Henry

        Pink’s in my possession and on my reading list (surprise) too.

        There’s a danger with labels though. Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck did a study on 5th graders, praising one group for their intelligence (you’re smart) while praising another for their effort (you’re working hard). Then they gave the kids nearly impossible problems to solve. The kids that were praised for effort did better.

        The kids praised for effort even preferred harder tasks they could learn from, while the kids praised for ability just gave up.

        The *right* labels matter, and usually revolve around what we chose to do rather than who we “are.”

        • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

          Wow! That’s amazing! Thanks for sharing that info Jon.

          “The *right* labels matter, and usually revolve around what we chose to do rather than who we “are.” ” — that’s a great quote!

  • Cass Sitterly

    Live and work wide open- make it ok to share joy triumphs and pain and obstacles Its ok to have uncertainty and its ok to encounter a failure – attempts are growth in action and you as a leader need to love the effort as well as the result. However if you only look int he rear view mirror you will not drive into your future as intended.

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

      And I think it ties into being congruent and being one person, no matter where you are or who is watching.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tanyalynnette Tanyalynnette Palmo

    Great post Chris and very timely! I think there is a key difference betwee sharing a failure and complaining about one. Sharing a failure is positive — we can laugh at the situation and encourage of team members with a story/lesson with a solution on how we overcame a difficult situation or some wisdom that we learned. The opposite is negative and non productive. When we “puke down” (to negative quote Jaselyn) we are abusing our team with grumbling and complaining and creating a very negative attitude and vibe in our enviornment. Bad mojo — nothing gets accomplished if we can’t at least thankful for the opportunity for improvements — after all, it means we get to come back another day and try again =)

    • Jaselyn

      Totally agree. If we share our failures with the mindset of how we can use them to improve, it’s very motivating. If we share as a way to complain or make excuses, it has the exact opposite effect.

  • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

    You can’t expect your team to accept their failures and learn from them if you’re not willing to do so as a leader. Like you can’t expect your kids to learn how to tell the truth when you instruct them to answer the phone and say you’re not home.

    • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

      crap! I tell my daughter that all the time ;) haha. Followers will almost always take a bad example further than the leader, and a good example about half as far as the leader. So be twice as transparent, honest, diligent as you want your followers to be!

      • http://jonahenry.com/ Jon Henry

        Technically, if you tell your kid to say you’re not at home, and you step out the door for a minute, you would be empowering your child to tell the truth, right?

        • Laura Johnson

          Ha!

        • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

          Amen to that!

    • http://twitter.com/epicenterone Aaron Nelson

      Nice. And here you’re assuming that the leader accepts his/her failures. I know quite a few who are oblivious to themselves.

    • Laura Johnson

      Is the kid example from personal experience? ;)

      • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

        Actually, no. My kids are too young to answer the phone ;0)

  • http://www.UnwillingToSettle.com/ Greg L. Gilbert

    “Humility and confidence CAN reside at the same SSN.” Greg L. Gilbert

  • http://twitter.com/2ndLeicester Kathy Leicester

    It’s essential. Isn’t one of the reasons we all love Dave so much is because he shares his failures, over and over again, so we’re reminded that we are all in this together.
    I work in a land of falsity where even the thought of sharing a failure or mistake is unsafe. Perhaps this has made me more INTENSE in this post than I’d intended. Freudian slip? :)

  • http://twitter.com/bhorvath77 Brian Horvath

    Chris, thanks for the post…very timely. I agree with you that “being real” allows for “real connection”. Often in ministry & I now know business, too, we put folks on pedestals that are not reality. I appreciate your humility, transparency and post today!

  • http://twitter.com/bhorvath77 Brian Horvath

    Chris, this timing is perfect. Thanks so much for your words and for your humility and transparency. Being “real” does reach people.

  • Jaselyn

    In my job, we have a rule about “puking up.” Basically, leaders talk about the crap that they went through with their leaders, not their peers or followers. But we do let followers see our failures when they come to follow us on sales calls, and we definitely talk about it. As a leader, it’s hard to have someone following you, because you want them to see you do well, but this is a good reminder that sometimes it’s important for them to see us make mistakes.

    But one way that we focus on keeping people motivated is that we don’t talk about results: we talk about the effort. While we do recognize high levels of sales, we also recognize high levels of effort. We talk about the “three controllables”: hours, demos, and attitude. We always recognize the people who are doing well in those three things, and it tends to happen that those people are also the ones with the highest level of sales. Since I work with college students, it’s a really good teaching tool to show them the value of hard work and a positive attitude, and how that translates to the results they want.

    • http://twitter.com/2ndLeicester Kathy Leicester

      Terrific, Jaselyn, thanks.
      I always struggle with the balance between emphasizing effort vs results, since both are necessary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=572104445 Brian Hah

    Great write up Chris. Thanks for sharing. =]

  • http://caroldublin.com/ Carol Dublin

    It is critical to share the failures as well as the successes. In my opinion, you don’t learn much from the successes. By examining what went wrong and how to do it better, that’s where the learning is. And often, if something is going well, we don’t even try to improve because hey, it’s going ok so why mess with it. But if it’s not quite right, then that’s where you get improvements. Great post as usual Chris!

  • Daniel Good

    I like a Quote from Jeff Conley “Failure is an event not a Person”

    • http://twitter.com/2ndLeicester Kathy Leicester

      Right on.

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

      Some people have bought season tickets for that event, though ;0)

      • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

        That’s pretty funny. I think I’ll tweet that now.

  • http://www.joshuarivers.net/ Joshua Rivers

    You can be a leader and not share failures? I figured there was another term for people who hide failures.

    Anyway…hiding failures is a sure fire way to stop growth. Or at least slow it down. When we take the time to examine our own failures, we can acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on. We can make the next step with a little more courage having a little bit more knowledge and experience.

    If we ignore our failures, we never learn from them. We live/work in fear – never taking risks. We never move past that failure. We get stuck in a rut (by the way, a rut is a grave with both ends blown out).

    The same applies to the failures of others. Only with exponentially more chance of success. If you can learn from the failures of others, you can learn the lessons without the damage of the fall. Instead of taking two steps forward and one step back, you can just take the two steps forward (or more).

    A leader that takes the time to share failures with their team will enable the team to see what failure looks like and how to avoid it. Not just in a power-point, hypothetical kind of way. It’ll be a this-actually-happened kind of thing that will emotionally connect with the team much more effectively.

    • http://twitter.com/2ndLeicester Kathy Leicester

      “Yes!” to what you’ve said, Joshua. ‘Specially the last sentence, that really struck a chord with me.

    • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

      So true Josh! If we hide failures we aren’t living in reality, and you can’t lead if you don’t know what the reality is!

  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    Transparency is important. The fact that I came up through the company as an engineer and project manager before I took my current role as an operations manager gives me a lot more credibility with my team. They know that I’ve experienced the same ups and downs and challenges that they have faced. It is important for me to stay positive, but I know I can keep it real with my team because I have been there too.

    • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

      So, how do you go about “keeping it real” when the situation stinks? Just curious…

      • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

        I think it’s important to provide HOPE that things will pass and get better over time. As leaders, we are HOPE carriers.

        • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

          Oh yeah! That’s what I was looking for! Bring on the hope! It seems so touchy feelly, but it’s so important. Encouragement is the oxygen to the soul.

          Thanks Jon!!!