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Here’s a riddle. Take a wall. Find a large piece of cardboard that can cover the wall. Cut into the cardboard a pattern – let’s make it a smiley face because why not smile. Affix the cardboard stencil you have created to the wall grab a pail of orange paint and throw it against the wall before peeling the stencil off. What are you left with?  

Obviously, a nice smiley happy face on the wall. So the question is – what created that image – was it the stencil or was it the paint? We’ll come back to that.

Our recent Mood of the Sales Leader survey highlighted the value of personal development in driving retention and engagement as well as sales performance over the next twelve months. Which has led many leaders to consider what type of development should they focus on.

List 10 key qualities of your best sales performers. Our experience tells us on average 2 of those qualities will be “skillsets” and the other 8 will be about things like attitude, proactivity and resilience – the group of attributes that we loosely call “mindset”. Which is why we are seeing a growing demand for development in the mindset area.

Some folks get nervous when you start talking mindset. It sounds a little airy fairy. People have visions of “The Secret” and claims that “if you visualize it the universe will manifest”.   

Anyone who has grown up in the world of sales will understand that nothing of value manifests without some focus and hard work being in the mix. So let’s take a more pragmatic approach to the topic of mindset within a sales organization.

We’ll work backwards starting with results. This is what leaders spend a lot of time focused on for good reason. And it is behaviour that drives results, which is why good leaders manage behaviours first and foremost. It’s through behaviours that we see evidence of people’s skill.

However, you may have noticed that whatever an individual’s skill level, their behaviours can be inconsistent. Leaders will often talk to me in frustration about how they know a particular salesperson has the skill, having personally witnessed it, but that skill doesn’t seem to show up consistently. This gap is not about their ability but their ability to access the ability when it’s really needed.

To understand this inconsistency, we need to understand what drives behaviour. Which turns out to be emotional state. 

When we are feeling confident, energized, passionate about our offering our behaviours reflect that feeling and results follow. If that same person is feeling worried, anxious, or frustrated we’ll now likely see different behaviours. Part of the responsibility of leadership is to be attuned to the emotional states of your team members and by managing those states allow the best behaviours to flow. 

To figure out how to do that we need to delve down one more layer to investigate what drives emotions. Why is it for example, that when organisations undergo change, different employees faced with the same transition can respond with completely different emotions? 

It’s because contrary to popular opinion our emotional response is not simply a reaction to external events. What drives our emotions is not the events we face, but our interpretation of what those events mean.   

These interpretations of meaning are generally referred to as “beliefs”. 

For example, let’s say a new software system is being installed. How do I interpret what a new software system means for me? If the meaning I attach to that is that my life will become easier, I’ll be able to be more efficient and spend less time on admin that the system will do for me, I may be excited about the change. However, if I believe the new system is going to be complex and confusing and make my life harder (or even put my job at risk) I’ll face the same change with a lot more trepidation.  

It's not the change that people are responding to, but what they think the change means for them.  

So that’s our basic formula. We behave our way into our results, and our behaviours will be heavily affected by our emotional states. Those emotional states will emerge from our set of beliefs, assumptions and interpretations.

What does that mean for leaders at a time where the media is full of doom and despair? Our job as leaders is to help our people contextualize the economic environment. To point out the opportunities that exist and draw attention to the resources our people have to continue to thrive.  

It’s at this point that some people start to worry we’re getting into rose-coloured glasses territory. Are we expected to ignore any negative information and put our heads in the sand? Don’t we have to be realistic?

Which takes us back to the riddle. What creates our smiley face, the paint or the stencil? The answer is obvious – both.

The paint is the external environment, coming at is in a chaotic manner in a colour we may not have chosen. The stencil is our beliefs and interpretations about those events. It’s what we choose to focus on and what we choose to tune out based on what’s useful and what’s not. And it is the stencil that determines the shape and character of our experience. 

Leaders, whether they know it or not are in the business of making meaning of the world their teams operate in. As meaning makers we filter out the noise and refocus the team on the areas they have control over. By doing so we keep our people in a resourceful state where they can continue to perform at their best, whatever the current environment, an emotional state that keeps them engaged and enthused about coming to work.

So take some time this week to think about what you want your stencil to be for your team, what do you want the shape of their experience to be. Because I can guarantee there’s another can of paint being opened as we speak and coming our way. And while we can’t predict what colour that paint will be we can take control over the image it leaves.

If you would like support with helping your team work through change, outlook to challenges and approach to learning, Indicator Training can help.  Contact us today!

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