Are You Burned Out or Passionate?

I recently had the good fortune to be a panelist at Seattle Pacific University and their School of Business and Economics. While there I enjoyed participating in a lively workshop titled “How Good Companies Go Bad.” A major portion of the discussion centered on Jim Collins and his excellent book, “How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In.”

While the book is a great read for any employee, the part that grabbed my attention focused on the importance of the right people being in the right position within the organization. This may seem simplistic and obvious, but it proved to be one of the most ignored cornerstones of the culture for the failed companies that Collins studied.

What I took away from the book and the workshop was how important it was for senior management to be passionate about all areas of their company, customers, and industry. That got me to think about two other discussions I had the same week with two different executive teams of rapidly growing systems and services companies.

“How do I motivate my salespeople when money doesn’t seem to work?” I was asked. At first, I thought they were talking about the Gen X and Gen Y age, which don’t seem nearly as motivated to excel as older generations. But in fact both groups were talking about 50-something salespeople.

Burned out at age 50?

Burned out when they should be at the top of their game? One of these former sales leaders was now tagged with the nickname “Eeyore” because instead of leading and excelling, he was whining and giving up.  All at a time when you would think that he would be doubling his efforts so as to save for retirement and pay off the last of the college expenses for his kids.

I hadn’t considered this. The people I usually meet with are highly motivated and striving with a sense of purpose. But after further discussions with these two different management teams, and then talking with the grad students about various case studies, one of the most important keys to success for individuals and companies seemed to come down to passion.

It was obvious that the grad students had plenty of passion. They had made sacrifices of time and money to improve themselves so that they could up their game and participate within their organizations at a higher level. The executive teams at the systems and services businesses had it in spades. They were working harmoniously together to create the roadmaps that would accelerate their companies forward ahead of their competitors. So what could an MBA program based on corporate failure, senior management teams striving for excellence, and burned out sales professionals “phoning it in” possibly have to do with your own career as a professional sales executive?

They all can provide lessons that apply to you as an individual sales executive. After all, in many ways you are really a one-person business. And you have surely seen the results of a fully engaged and passionate salesperson versus a washed-up, sold-out, ineffectual has-been.

Which are you?

Be honest with yourself. If you are reading books, magazines, and blogs that deal with your industry, your clients, your company, and your own skill enhancement, then you probably are an engaged, passionate salesperson. But how closely do you fit into some of the success principals outlined in “How The Mighty Fall?”  According to the book’s research:

  1. The right people fit with the company’s core values
  2. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed
  3. The right people understand that they do not have “jobs;” they have responsibilities
  4. The right people fulfill their commitments
  5. The right people are passionate about the company and its work
  6. The right people display “window and mirror” maturity

In my experience, the most important of these attributes is passion. While valued employees can contribute to the organization with just a few of these traits, it is rare that leaders, regardless of title or position, do not have an overpowering sense of passion.

Perhaps the person who made this point the best was one of the fifty-something executives I met with last week. He had worked hard (and smart) for decades, building his company, establishing a good reputation, and passionately taking care of his customers regardless of circumstances. A larger company noticed this and eventually purchased his company. It was remarkable how when he talked about some of the problems he had to solve over the years, along with what he had to do to make things right, that his own passion leapt across the table at me. I think he was as proud of the problems he solved as he was about the company he built.

Passion. Do you have it? Or are you on cruise control, giving your career an 80% effort. Your boss already knows the answer to this, and most likely, your clients know the answer to this as well. Your commission check absolutely shows your passion level. You can argue that passion can’t be taught. But if you had it once, I believe you can get it back again. If you aren’t motivated to renew your passion for the sheer joy of accomplishment, then do it for the inevitable increase in your bank balance.

After all, those college expenses aren’t cheap.

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