The Confidence Game

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For about six weeks every year, beginning in late December and continuing through early February, football fans get the ultimate fix: the college bowl games, The NFL play-offs and, finally, the Super Bowl. It’s also an annual refresher course in winning and losing that separates the champs from the also-rans.

For a moment, consider the losers in these annual contests. The also-rans work mighty hard to get to those games in the first place. What causes these exceptional teams to be eliminated? Much of the reason can be traced to split-second breakdowns in what you might call the confidence game.

Legendary Alabama football coach Paul Bryant retired with 323 wins over 38 seasons. “Bear” Bryant used to say that members of a winning team needed five things:

1. Tell me what you expect from me.

2. Give me an opportunity to perform.

3. Let me know how I’m doing.

4. Give me guidance when I need it.

5. Reward me according to my contributions.


Winners need straight information. Too often, you’ll hear salespeople complain they’re not getting a constant flow of confident support. Confidence is surely important. So is exact and clear direction at critical moments. When everything is on the line, make sure you’re listening for the right signals.

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Strive For Excellence

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A friend sent me an amusing story about working for the “Average Company,” which she’d read in Simple Tools and thought it was worth passing on. Now I’m doing you the same favor, because if you are getting bored with striving for excellence or settling for just doing a pretty good job, you may want to apply for a job here.

At the Average Company, the corporate vision is:

“To be no worse than any other company.”

The value statement:

“The greatest labor-saving device of all is tomorrow.”

It gets better. The corporate motto:

“You don’t have to be really good to get by.”

And the sales goal:

“To match last year’s sales goals, if it works out.”

My favorite is the management philosophy:

“To not make a decision is to make a decision.”

The law of averages tells us that, eventually, everything evens out. You have a few good years, you’ll probably have a bad year here and there. Most companies, if well managed, can weather the storm and come back strong and healthy. Those that don’t survive probably just got a little lucky in the good years.

If you work for the Average Company, you know that sometimes things work out better than others. You try, but occasionally circumstances are out of your control… or are they? I’m of the opinion that you make your own luck.

“The harder I work the luckier I get.”–Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s

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Setting Clear Job Measurement Standards

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Prioritize and specify the results expected. Don’t be trapped by misleading measures.  For example, if your primary responsibility is to reorganize your department in the next three months and not to excel in meeting sales goals, make sure this is clearly spelled out.

Clarify the intangibles. Often, people are thrown into situations where they are totally reliant on the performance of others, especially in new product development.  Affirm your commitment to perform provided that your associates do their jobs as well.

Investigate failure. If the last person occupying your job failed to meet performance standards, learn why exactly this happened.  Your predecessor, for example, may have been skewered for a shortcoming over which he or she had no control.  Don’t be the second casualty.

Distinguish aspirational from achievable. Who doesn’t want to burst through the sales sound barrier?  Be sure to clarify what the realistic goal is-not an inspiring, vague desire.

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