Have you ever noticed that sticky notes easily fall off a flip chart? One possible reason for this is that the adhesive is not applied correctly. During a design thinking session, I learned a hack that could be useful – if you rotate the sticky note 90° and place it on the surface with the adhesive strip in a vertical position, it should hold its position much longer. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and see the results for yourself!
What’s a sticky note got to do with employee engagement? Although many organizations mean well by emphasizing employee engagement, the improvement plans and initiatives don’t stick long-term due to leadership or organizational changes; organizational flux may negate workplace improvements, or new leaders may deprioritize engagement.
But what if you turn the sticky note 90° and approach employee engagement differently? Based on my experience leading multiple engagement teams or initiatives, I’ve observed four employee engagement phases and two ways to make it stick.
Let’s begin with my working definition of employee engagement – the level of discretionary effort one is willing to put forth based on the relationship with their manager and the work environment.
Employee engagement directly affects business performance, and its influence on productivity, retention, customer loyalty, net income, and shareholder return is well-documented. Bottom line: The higher the level of employee engagement, the more successful the business will be; conversely, a low level of engagement will lead to unfavorable results.
Gallup’s findings this year are shocking: employee engagement has dropped to a record low of only 32%, meaning that almost 70% of employees are not engaged with their work.[i] This is an especially concerning figure when considering that 18% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they are actively unhappy and potentially undermining their colleagues. This is an unsustainable situation for any organization.
If an employee engagement emphasis is the Holy Grail and is proven to drive positive results, why does it seem so elusive? And why do only 25% of companies have an engagement plan?[ii]
Maybe it’s due to leadership’s revolving door or the ever-evolving corporate restructuring. A wise man once told me that a new CEO or president’s only growth throttle was to undergo a merger/acquisition or reorganize the company.
I experienced the impact of new leadership and relentless restructuring firsthand. In my former company, I faced a constant sense of being up for re-election during my 20-year career. It felt like being a member of Congress, where I had to campaign for re-election every two years. Despite the challenging circumstances, I was able to survive 11 election cycles.
Based on where I was in the election cycle, my engagement level ebbed and flowed. I experienced what it meant to be highly engaged – to trust my managers and peers, to feel valued and that I made a valuable contribution, and to flourish in a positive work environment. I’ve had leaders that believed in me and involved me in meaningful work. On the other hand, I’ve suffered dreadful managers where I became disengaged and felt demoralized. I’ve learned from both; what to do from the inspirational leaders and what not to do from the rest.
I’ve also had the opportunity to lead employee engagement teams comprised of committed volunteers; one group drove a complete turn-around, and the other catalyzed a move from good to great. Lastly, I’ve directly managed teams where morale and engagement were low and helped turn them into high-performing teams.
Whether individually or leading a team, I’ve experienced the birth of new organizations or teams, the eager drive toward positive engagement, and delivering extraordinary results, only to be stopped in our tracks by a leadership change or organization restructure.
The Four Phases of Employee Engagement
As displayed in the chart, I’ve observed four Employee Engagement phases, including rewiring, results, rumors, and re-org.
- Rewiring phase. The new organization is announced, people are assigned new roles, and the rewiring and how things get done (i.e., how water flows through the pipes) typically takes six to eight months. Employee engagement lurches higher, but productivity is low.
- Results phase. Once the organization understands its vision, mission, and how it works to get things done, results materialize. At some point during the phase, upper management determines there is a need to focus on employee engagement. Committees are formed, charters are written, macro-level strategies are developed, and tactics are deployed. Employee engagement peaks with the proper emphasis, and productivity is high.
- Rumors phase. Changes in an organization are inevitable, and people begin to speculate. Surely enough, consultants are engaged, and HR representatives huddle in meetings. Employee engagement ebbs and productivity recedes.
- Reorg phase. The phase is filled with posturing, anxiety, and fear no matter how management roles out reorganization communication and timing. People sit on their hands and wait for the news about their job. Once their job status is determined, people exit immediately, while others stay and apply for open roles. It’s cold. It’s hard. Engagement emphasis stops. No wonder employee engagement is at its lowest point, and productivity is minimal at best.
Then the process starts all over again. In my estimation, organizations will never reach their potential if stymied by relentless instability.
Moving Toward Sticky Employee Engagement
Recently, a senior executive asked me about my Employee Engagement experience and if engagement can be improved long-term. I shared my thoughts on the above four Employee Engagement phases and clarified that it is indeed meaningful. However, durable engagement improvement depends on two factors.
First, the organization must sustain its “results phase” and continue progressing toward the vision and mission while empowering, energizing, and enabling employees. If the results phase is prolonged, the organization can reach its full potential, whether financial, innovation-based, or customer satisfaction.
The second part of the solution is to focus on “micro-leadership.” Recall my definition of employee engagement: The level of discretionary effort one is willing to put forth based on the relationship with their manager and work environment. The manager and direct report relationship is foundational. If the connection is strong, the organization will flourish. If weak, the organization will flounder.
To create sticky employee engagement regardless of the organizational circumstances, we need to develop leadership skills at the micro level, between managers and direct reports, where the rubber meets the road, including:
- Expressing empathy. Understand others, ask questions, listen, stand in someone else’s shoes, and show others you care for them.
- Building trust. Do what you say you will do, let others know who you are, share your values and what you stand for.
- Instilling purpose and meaning. Help associates understand why their roles exist, how their contribution adds value, and what success looks like.
- Coaching and developing. Conduct 360-degree assessments to identify strengths and skill gaps, create capability plans, hold frequent development discussions, and help others reach their potential.
- Appreciating and encouraging. Ensure associates know that they are valued and make a difference. Lift them during adversity and lavish praise when they succeed.
Lastly, I leave you with another question: What if you don’t focus on employee engagement?
Think about it.
Without an engagement focus, your organization will find itself in a doom loop. Morale will suffer, you’ll be surrounded by mediocrity, and your company will lose its competitive edge. Your customers will find alternate solutions. Your organization will drift into sameness and may go under. Not a pretty picture.
Be assured that investing in employee engagement will pay dividends.
Morale is an Organization’s Best Friend
Speaking of morale, I recently read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the lessons learned thus far from the Ukraine-Russia war. The author wrote, “The importance of morale to military success isn’t a new concept. More than two centuries ago, French emperor, Napoleon said morale was three times as important as the manpower and equipment on the battlefield, in a remark sometimes translated as: ‘In war, moral power is to physical as three parts out of four.’ Ukrainian troops, convinced of their moral cause and knowing they were fighting for the survival of their families and their country, beat back Russian forces who were involved in what they were told was a special military operation’.”[iii]
If you have morale, it will be your organization’s best friend.
To make employee engagement stick, I encourage executive management teams to recognize the need to stabilize their organization and develop effective leaders. If they do, they’ll reach their potential and deliver extraordinary results.
To learn more about how Preston can help your organization or team, visit prestonpoore.com.
[iii] “The Conflict in Ukraine Offers Old-and New-Lessons in 21st Century Warfare,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2023> Read More
Last year, I was preparing to launch my new book, Discipled Leader, and build my leadership development platform. While it was an exciting time and a dream coming true, I felt overwhelmed and lacked direction. I was in unfamiliar territory. It was my first rodeo. I’d never published a book before, let alone start a business. It seemed to be a daunting task.
Poet John Donne wrote that “no man is an island.” Meaning I couldn’t accomplish something extraordinary on my own. Success would require the help of others. I knew that I’d only reach my potential with wise counsel and support. And if I reached my potential, others could reach theirs as well.
“No man is an island”John Donne
That’s when I got the idea to develop a Personal Advisory Board (PAB). I discovered the concept in the Wall Street Journal about how successful business executives surround themselves with trusted advisors to help the business executive develop and accomplish their goals.
The Latin phrase is correct, vident oculi quam oculus – many eyes see more than one. I set out to create an inner circle that would assist in navigating unchartered waters and help me reach my potential. But I wasn’t looking for “yes” people, those only patting me on the back and telling me what I wanted to hear. I sought guidance, not validation. I wanted to surround myself with people who would push me, ask probing questions, give feedback even if it’s hard to hear, provide creative input, offer a business perspective, and signal watchouts. I needed folks who could help me solve challenging problems and make complex decisions. Lastly, I desired individuals that had experience with my chosen path; they’d gone before me. I wanted them to share their successes, failures, and learnings. Ultimately, tap into their wisdom.
There’s one other reason I wanted to develop a PAB. I crave positive affirmation. But when I receive it, I can easily get big-headed and begin to think I’m all that. Pride creeps in, I get puffed up, and I tend to take credit for things that go well or blame others when they don’t. I know my weakness, and I can become arrogant without an external party pointing it out to me. My egotistical and self-absorption bent made personal and professional accountability a must. I had to stay grounded and remain humble.
So, I began recruiting PAB members. In the initial communication, I shared with them why I was starting a PAB, what I was trying to accomplish, and then invited them to participate in something bigger than themselves. If they’d joined me on the journey, they’d be able to shape the outcome.
I recruited six original members that agreed to serve for 12 months, two women and four men, including a former NFL player and corporate executive, a head pastor, an internationally renowned composer, a healthcare consultant and seminary student, and two best-selling authors that own speaking/training small businesses.
I began monthly, ten-minute, one-on-one meetings with the PAB members. Our initial meetings were clunky, but we slowly got the hang of it. Before the sessions, I sent an executive summary, including activity updates and areas where I needed feedback.
They’ve helped me make many sound decisions, provided creative input, offered penetrating feedback, and encouraged me when I was down. I couldn’t have done it without them. Ultimately, my book launch was successful, and my platform continues to evolve.
The other good news is that each PAB member renewed for another 12 months. We’ve even added another member, a former beverage industry executive, and leadership coach.
So, do you want to start a PAB? Here’s what I recommend…
- Define your why. What are your business or initiative’s purpose, contribution, and impact? I recommend using the following Why Statement: To (contribution), so that (impact). For example, “To engage and inspire people, so that people are motivated to do something creative every day.” Writing a Why Statement will help you distill your thoughts and articulate them to others.
- Design your ideal board member profile. Imagine what your perfect board member would bring to the table. What complementary characteristics, skills, or experiences will an individual contribute to your journey? Do they have a thinking style different than yours (e.g., strategic, creative, analytical, critical)? Do you trust and respect the individual? Will the potential board member openly share feedback, ask hard questions, encourage you, give advice, pray with you, support your effort? Is the person influential and well-connected? Do you share similar values and faith? What will you have gained from and given to the participant a year from now? Answering these questions will help you think through the ideal board member.
- Identify candidates and recruit. Based on your ideal board member profile, begin thinking about your circle of influence and connections. Look across your friends, colleagues, mentors, and broader network for potential candidates. I identified a list of people I believed would want to partner with me for my initial PAB. Then, I sent an invitation email to the candidates with my Why Statement, what I hoped to accomplish, why I identified them as potential candidates, and how they’d make a difference. I invited them into something bigger than themselves. If the individual was interested and wanted to learn more, I’d set up a follow-up Zoom call to share more details.
- Manage time expectations. How you view time is a mindset. Are you asking the advisors to spend time with you or invest time with you? If you invest in something, you’ll experience a return, directly or indirectly. If you approach the requested time as an investment, people will be more open to supporting you. And be upfront about the time investment you’re requesting. I asked folks for a 12-month commitment. It takes time to develop an effective process and productive sessions. I found that almost everyone is willing to invest a 10-minute, one-on-one, monthly appointment to help. Lastly, I highly recommend that you honor the time commitment. Be concise and be done. Do your best to stay within the scheduled time allotment. If you are in deep conversation, ask permission to extend the appointment or schedule additional time. Time is the most precious resource we have. Respect others’ time, and they will appreciate it.
- Send a pre-meeting executive summary. Before every round of PAB meetings, I send an executive summary of what I’ve accomplished since the last meeting, plans, feedback requested, decisions I’m considering, or problems I’m trying to solve. I’ve found that the executive summaries prime the discussion pump and give the members something to respond to. I advise the PAB members that I’ll reach out individually to set up the next one-on-ones. Then, I move to text and converse with the PAB members to schedule time.
- Conducting the session. This is the fun and value-creating time. I always ask if the PAB member received the executive summary and if they have any specific questions. This is where the conversation can go in many different directions. Caution! Sometimes a PAB member doesn’t have immediate questions or feedback. If this is the case, I’m prepared to give a brief update or ask a question related to PAB members’ skills, experience, or interests. Be sure to summarize the key takeaway to the advisor and discuss potential next steps. I always recap the key takeaway during the next session and provide a progress update. Listening and acting will demonstrate to the PAB member that you value their insight. Lastly, always ask how you can help the PAB member. You want to create a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship. Not only receive value but return value.
- Rinse, refine, repeat, recruit. Like I said earlier, the process may feel a little clunky as you start out. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. Reflect on each round of one-on-ones. What worked, didn’t work, and what can you improve? Apply your learnings to refine the overall process and PAB member experience. Lastly, keep scanning your network for potential PAB members and cultivating relationships. Anticipate that people will eventually rotate off your PAB, and you’ll want to have a pipeline of people to fill open slots.
One of the best things I’ve done is create a PAB. The members shaped my mission, influenced my thinking, and molded my approach. They’ve helped me navigate unchartered territory, solve perplexing problems, and make sound decisions. Even better, they feel they’re engaged in something bigger than themselves, something extraordinary.
I agree with John Donne; we aren’t islands. We can’t do it alone. We need others on this journey we call life. How about you? Do you have a dream, vision, idea, or a burning passion, but you’re unsure where to start? Surround yourself with a PAB, meet your goals, and watch your dreams come true.
Want to learn more about becoming a leader others will gladly follow? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
Preston> Read More
I remember entering the class disheartened; the worst salesperson in the Southeast – bottom of the totem pole. Not only was I disappointed by my sales results, but I’d also become depressed – underperformance, not meeting expectations. I’d lost confidence and was fearful of losing my job. Even my outward appearance reflected my low spirits. Then, I met Jason. He was the owner of the local Dale Carnegie franchise and sales course facilitator. I came to learn he was formally the top Dale Carnegie salesperson in the world, a former PGA tour member and local radio show host. I admired him and hung on every word he said. For some reason, he took an interest in me.
The class included 20 participants wanting to learn about the selling process. Everything Jason taught was eye-opening to me: How to open a sales call (e.g., “if there were a way to increase your sales by $X, you’d want to know about it wouldn’t you?”), how to ask probing questions, listening skills, the difference between features and benefits, providing a value proposition, how to smoke out and overcome objections, and closing techniques, all with a human relations perspective.
The course’s methodology was to teach a selling principle in the classroom, apply it on the job, return the next week, and share what happened. Jason coached the participants as we practiced the principles – many times, we failed – but that’s where the learning occurred. He encouraged us to get out of our comfort zones to where growth happens. And move out of my comfort zone I did – as time passed, I applied the principles, and they worked for me. My confidence started to grow. I began fearlessly opening sales calls – gaining a store owner’s undivided attention, listening for customer needs, demonstrating how Pro Plan would benefit their business, overcoming objections, and, most of all, closing sales. Additionally, Jason called me every few weeks during the course to see how I was doing – I appreciated his interest and mentorship. I’d tell him how I was applying the new selling principles; ask a few questions, and he’d provide some coaching.
I blossomed as my selling skills improved. I began experiencing positive results, and it showed. I had more pep in my step, and my outward appearance began to reflect how I felt on the inside. I even started attending class wearing a sports coat, dress slacks, and a button-down shirt. My newfound confidence was beaming. Jason noticed and publicly commented so.
Over the 12-week course, class members participated in a “Sales Talk” competition where everyone took turns pitching their product or service and leveraged the new skills we’d learned. When it was my turn in the first round, I passionately demonstrated how I’d grown over the previous weeks and pitched Pro Plan using all the key selling principles and techniques. Surprisingly, my peers voted me into the finals. But Michael, a professional salesperson, future CEO, and community leader, was a formidable competitor. Are you kidding? Me versus Goliath? Winning was going to take all I had and then some.
To differentiate me and take home the trophy, I decided that the key to beating Michael would be showmanship – demonstrating Pro Plan’s real-life effect. No, I wasn’t going to ask everyone to taste a kibble. However, my idea did involve a dog. I was hesitant to execute the plan, but during my preparation, I remembered a quote in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” It reads, “I cannot write a work commiserate with Shakespeare, but I can write a book by me,” meaning be yourself, be authentic. The quote inspired me with the confidence to become a first-rate Preston Poore and not a second-rate someone else. To take a chance and differentiate myself from the competition.
The big day came, and Michael went first. He gave a passionate and convincing talk about construction and business development – his new pitch for multi-million-dollar buildings – real estate development. Smooth. Impressive. Surely, he would win. But that didn’t stop me from trying, rising to the challenge. I’d practiced my presentation and was ready to go.
I rose to present in my chalk striped gray suit, tie, and polished shoes. I conveyed confidence, filled the room with presence. In command of my presentation, I had a conversation with the audience, as if I was speaking directly to a potential store owner. After walking through my opening statement, asking questions, flushing out, and overcoming objections, it was time for the close.
I told the audience that there was no better way to believe what I was telling them, the health benefits of Pro Plan than to show them a living example. To the audience’s surprise, my wife Carla appeared in the back of the room, holding our Dachshund, Sally. I introduced Carla and Sally. Sally’s tail wagged as she recognized me. Carla put Sally down, and Sally immediately ran across the room to me. The class cheered and roared with laughter, enjoying the pleasant surprise appearance. I picked Sally up and told the audience that the “proof is in the pudding.” Sally’s eaten Pro Plan for the last year. Her coat shined, her energy level was high, and she was healthier than when we fed her grocery store-brand pet food.
I addressed the audience, “Who wouldn’t want their pet to look and feel like Sally? All it takes is offering Pro Plan to your customers.” To close, I asked, “Would you like to place the large or medium-sized rack with your first 500 lb. order?” I said thank you, and the audience stood in rousing applause. I was overwhelmed.
Then, time to vote. Jason handed out ballots and instructed the class to choose who they thought best demonstrated the sales principles. He asked them to consider passion and creativity in their decision. After a few quiet moments, Jason gathered the ballots, counted them, and announced, “You’ve selected Preston as our ‘Sales Talk Champion.’ Congratulations, Preston!” I proudly received a plaque that I still have to this day.
The Dale Carnegie Sales course and my experience over those 12 weeks set my career on a new trajectory. I developed valuable skills I didn’t have before. I stepped out of my comfort zone to apply the principles I learned. Sometimes I failed, and other times I succeeded. I learned and grew through the process. So much so that I eventually became the number one Pro Plan representative in the Southeast, opening more new accounts and increasing sales more than my peers. I grew, and my company grew. All because someone believed in me, made way for me, coached me, developed me. I intentionally leaned into the process and greatly improved my results. I benefited personally and professionally.
I learned training itself wasn’t enough. The secret sauce was in what I did with the training, the new skills I developed. I didn’t set them on a shelf and forget about them. If you’re on a development journey and want to realize your potential, I recommend employing three fundamental principles:
Apply, Apply, Apply – It’s been said that knowledge is power. Not so fast. I believe that the application of knowledge is power. You need to put what you learned into practice; turn thoughts and words into action. Bring things to life. There’s limited value in gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Knowledge must inform and shape our actions. But without effort, knowledge is dead. The fuel of development is application, nothing more, nothing less. To grow, you need to employ what you’ve learned, test it, try it. Don’t let ideas, principles, or concepts move into one ear and out the other. To make a real, substantial, material change, you must do. In doing, move out of your comfort zone to the edge where learning happens, where you gain experience. PT Barnum said, “No man or woman has a right to expect to succeed in life unless they understand their business, and nobody can understand their business thoroughly unless they learn it by personal application and experience.” I stepped out of my comfort zone, employed the principles, gained experience, and succeeded. If you apply what you learn, you will too.
Self-Reflect – Once you’ve applied the acquired knowledge, it’s time to reflect – think deeply about your experience. Why? Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” By looking back thoroughly at your actions. What worked well? What were your successes? How did you see your strengths come to life, and how will you build upon them? What didn’t go well? Did you fail? That’s ok. What did you learn? What problems did you encounter? What were the root causes? What adjustments do you need to make? What are limiting self-beliefs holding me back? I recommend keeping a journal to record your thoughts. Writing helps you know what you think. Ask yourself, did I succeed or fail today? Why? How did it make me feel? How can I improve? If you journal over time, you’ll be able to return to your reflections and see growth.
Be Accountable – To achieve the results you desire, it’s good to have a coach, mentor, manager, peer, or friend to ask probing questions, give advice, and encourage you. Connect with someone you trust and share your plan with them. Be vulnerable with the person by sharing your ups and downs, where you are in your development journey. Similar to the above self-reflection questions, empower your accountability partner to ask questions like:
- Wins: What’s going well? What are you most proud of? What did you learn? How will you replicate or build upon it?
- Challenges: What’s not going well? Why? What did you learn? How will you course correct?
- Goals: What do you want to accomplish moving forward? By when? How do you define success? Do you anticipate any challenges? How will you overcome them?
- Support: How can I help you?
Training isn’t enough, but it’s the start of reaching your potential. If you apply what you learn, reflect, and are transparent with someone who will encourage you and hold you accountable, you will grow. You’ll transform the capacity, raw talents, and abilities you have into power, influence, and positive effect. Your potential will become potency. Because of your growth, you’ll grow everything around you – cultures, communities, companies, churches, schools, you name it. What are you waiting for?
Want to uplevel your skills or become a leader others will gladly follow? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
Preston> Read More
“Composer Gian Carlo Menotti forcefully stated, ‘Hell begins on that day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts we wasted, of all that we might have done that we did not do. Unrealized potential is a tragic waste.’” 
Reaching your potential is a choice. You choose to pursue fulfilling your potential by engaging in personal and professional development, or you can choose not to – what a waste. I decided to develop my potential early on and not throw it away. My road moving from potential to potency began when I made a huge career change from banking to sales. Here’s my story.
Reaching your potential is a choice
With his piercing blue eyes, Chris stared at me for a moment and then said with an exasperated tone, “I’m not interested. You’re wasting your time and mine. As a matter of fact, you don’t need to come back, ever again.” His words penetrated my soul and wounded my pride. He was right; I was wasting his time. I’d frequently visited his store to make a case on why he needed to carry the new product line I represented. I thought enthusiasm and persistence would eventually pay off, and Chris would become a new customer. But I couldn’t close the deal. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t closing any deals.
You see, I was hired by Ralston Purina to launch a new premium pet food named Pro Plan – a competition for market leaders Science Diet and Iams. A friend referred me to the hiring manager, Tom, who oversaw forming the Southeast sales team. After our interview and lack of candidates in the Alabama / Mississippi market, Tom decided to give me a chance even though I had absolutely no selling experience. When Tom called to offer the job to me, he made it clear that he was “hiring potential” and that we’d see how it would go. Not a resounding vote of confidence, but I decided to accept the role anyway. Why? I wanted to make a career change, and the offer was too good to turn down. It included a 30% pay raise, massive bonus, substantial benefits, and a company car – a sweet deal for someone without the needed experience.
Before I started the role, Tom called and said he was sending some brochures to learn about the Pro Plan product line and a list of pet and feed store accounts in my new territory. Since Tom was standing up a new sales team and couldn’t spend much time with me, he suggested that I read a few books on selling, pick my favorite principles, and apply them. He also told me that enthusiasm and persistence would win over any customer. Lastly, he said it was time to hit the road and begin selling Pro Plan. . . Call him if I have any questions.
I mapped out my route using the account list and hit the road. I started with the larger cities like Birmingham and Jackson, calling on local pet and feed store owners. Then, I visited rural markets. If you’ve never driven in the rural Southeast, there are long stretches of two-lane roads with only farmland and cows in sight. This was when I gained my affection for country music because it was typically the only music my radio would pick up.
I went from town to town, from pet store to pet store, feed store to feed store. I discovered that a few accounts had already picked up Pro Plan, but the vast majority hadn’t. Why? Because of Purina’s dominant grocery channel market share, many store owners considered Purina the competition, even the enemy. Purina’s flagship brand was Dog Chow. The company invested a lot of money in marketing and advertising the brand, driving customers into grocery stores, and converting customers into buyers. When customers purchased their pet food in a grocery store, they were less likely to visit and buy from a pet or feed store. To many pet and feed store owners, the idea of carrying a Ralston product just wasn’t palatable.
After my initial two-month swing across Alabama and Mississippi, I attended a Pro Plan sales meeting at Purina’s St. Louis headquarters. The marketing team introduced a Pro Plan line extension called “Turkey and Barley.” Part of the product knowledge was a kibble tasting; yes, a kibble tasting. I’ll never forget the moment. Teams gathered at designated tables to review the packaging, ingredients, and product differentiation. Then the moment of truth. My manager, Tom, asked his new team, “You wouldn’t feed something to your dog that you couldn’t feed yourself, would you?” We all looked at each other with a sense of disbelief. I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “when in Rome”. . . I began chewing, and the kibble sucked the moisture out of my mouth, bone dry. Immediately, I chased the kibble with a tall drink of water. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I thought. Thankfully, I managed to hide my angst, not embarrass myself, and comply with the culture.
I soon returned to my market and began calling on store owners again. Most of my focus was on new business development. Cold calling, opening new accounts, developing relationships. But I soon discovered that my efforts weren’t paying off. I had great conversations with store owners, but I hadn’t closed any deals. Reports from the company showed that I was in last place – opened accounts, volume % change. I was hired for my potential, but as Bear Bryant used to say, “potential just means you aren’t worth a sh** yet.” To reach my potential and to not let down the hiring manager who took a risk on me, I decided I needed some type of sales training. But I didn’t know where to start.
The last straw happened at The Pet Stop in Vestavia, AL. The owner’s name was Chris. His store was in a neighborhood near my house, making it easy to visit regularly. Chris was a big Science Diet and Iams supporter. As I got to know Chris over time, I discovered that he was fervently resentful toward Purina because its marketing drew traffic and potential sales away from his store. I showed him the informative brochures during every visit and explained Pro Plan’s latest marketing campaign. But I couldn’t gain his commitment. He shared his gripes – no space, no money, happiness with competitors, not wanting to support “the competition.” One day Chris told me, “I’m not interested. You’re wasting your time and mine. As a matter of fact, you don’t need to come back, ever again.”
After a series of similar events, I approached my hiring manager, told him I didn’t think I was cut out for the role, and he probably made a mistake in hiring me. He probed with a few questions and seemed empathetic. He asked me to walk him through my “selling” approach. He immediately concluded that I didn’t follow a process – for example, no opening statements, probing for needs, handling objections, or closing techniques. He wasn’t sure what to do because Purina didn’t offer a formal sales training program because they typically hired experienced sales representatives. But he had an idea. . . What if I took an external sales training course? He charged me with finding some options, and once we picked the best one, he’d find the funds to pay for it.
I researched and found a course from a well-known company named Dale Carnegie Training. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Dale Carnegie is best known for writing “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and his namesake training organization offered a human relations-oriented sales training course. But the fee and time commitment seemed outrageous . . . $1,000 for a 12-week course that met one night a week for 3 hours, loads of homework, and on the job application. It would take a significant commitment to complete the course, but I was willing to do anything to improve my selling skills and shake my ranking as the worst sales rep on Tom’s team.
Faced with the options of success or failure, winning or losing, continuing or quitting, I knew I needed to change. I wanted to close the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. I decided that the only way to succeed, win, and continue was to develop. If you’re going to ignite your potential but don’t know where to start, I recommend the following two steps:
Define Your Gap – When I began engaging potential customers about Pro Plan, I quickly realized that I couldn’t sell. How? I didn’t produce results. My natural abilities, enthusiasm, and persistence, while necessary, weren’t enough. I knew I needed to learn a new skill. If I did, I was confident that I’d succeed. If not, I was sure that I’d be looking for a new role. Failure wasn’t an option. I had a young family, depending on me, friends who referred me, and a manager who took a chance on me. I’d let them all down—the desire to succeed burned within me. I had a sense of urgency to close my gap.
Do you feel a burning to become better than you are right now? Where you are in now terms of character, skill, and habits typically won’t get you where you want to go. You need to grow, change, enlarge. But how do you define your gap? Here’s a simple exercise:
- Pick up to 8 skills that you need to develop in your current role to be successful.
- For each skill, rate yourself from 1 to 10, with 1 being no skill at all and 10 being skill mastery.
- Out of the 8 self-rated skills, choose the top 3 skills you need to improve. I recommend picking a combination of skill deficits and proficiencies. Why? People typically focus on the negative or what they lack. They forget they have unique talents, skills, and abilities. I encourage you to identify what you do well and build upon it. If you invest time to shore up your weaknesses and amplify your strengths, you will add more value to those around you.
- Out of the three skills you chose, what’s your number one gap? How do you move from where you are now to where you want to be? In terms of my selling skills, I rated myself as a 1, essentially deficient. I set a goal to become a 7 within the following year. Realistically, I knew I wouldn’t immediately become a master salesperson, and it would take time to close the gap. But I was confident that if I grew my selling skill, I’d be on the path to success. I’d do more than just survive; I’d thrive. How about you. Ask yourself what your role, career, or life would look like if you closed your number one gap. What will be the benefit to you and those around you? On the flip side, what if you don’t close the gap? What will happen then? What is it worth to you? Once you discover what it will mean if you improve or don’t improve, the “why?” you’ll find the motivation to change.
- Lastly, ask someone you trust to rate your skills. It’s beneficial to have an outside perspective on where you can improve. Their feedback will be a gift.
Be Deliberate – What’s the difference between growth and stagnation? You. You need to be intentional, take the initiative, own it. You can’t be casual about your personal and professional development. Growth doesn’t happen by itself. You won’t develop accidentally. You must carefully think about what you want to do and how you will close your gaps. Set goals and put a plan in place. Avoid excuses like, “I’m too busy” or “I not willing to commit.” Charles Schwab said, “When a man or woman puts a limit on what they will do, they limit what they can do.” Make the time and be willing to pay the price. Do everything in your power to secure the support, funding, and time you need to develop the skill. Let nothing get in the way. I took the initiative after identifying my selling gap. I approached Tom, my manager, with my need and gained his support. He secured the Dale Carnegie Sales Course $1,000 fee and allowed me to adjust my schedule to attend the training. Once enrolled, I wholeheartedly committed to attending the classes, doing the homework, applying the principles, and sharing my learnings every week for three months.
If you define your development gap, deliberately commit, and act, you will grow. You’ll be on the road to transforming the capacity, raw talents, and abilities you have into power, influence, and positive effect. What are you waiting for?
Do you want to discover more about reaching your potential? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
 Excerpt From: John C. Maxwell & Jim Dornan. “Becoming a Person of Influence.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/becoming-a-person-of-influence/id607555354> Read More
Imagine a world where Luke Skywalker didn’t become a Jedi Knight, fight galactic battles, destroy the Death Star, and defeat the Evil Empire. Instead, he retreated to his home planet, Tatooine, became a scavenger and sold pre-owned hovercrafts across the galaxy. The movie would be called “Car Wars.”
What if Daniel-son never found the courage to stand up to his bullies, ignored Miyagi, and eventually got waxed off? The movie would be renamed “The Coward Kid.”
Or, Coaches Boone and Yost couldn’t overcome their prejudices, the high school football team remained dysfunctional, and finished last in their conference? The movie would be entitled “NO ONE Remembers the Titans.”
But these aren’t the stories we know. Young Luke was mentored by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, learned how to use his lightsaber, connect with the Force, and help overcome the Evil Empire in Star Wars. Daniel-son was mentored by Miyagi, learned to confront his fears, and defeated the bullies in the Karate Kid. And everyone Remembers the Titans because the team prevailed over prejudice, practiced hard, and won the state football championship.
What’s one of the common threads among the stories? The characters weren’t heroes when they started, but they all had had untapped potential. What is potential? It’s someone or something that demonstrates the capacity, raw talent, and qualities to become successful or valuable in the future. They underwent a shaping, molding, transformation to realize their potential and convert it to potency. Put another way, they all went through a development process before realizing their potential. When potential is developed, it becomes potent – someone with high power, influence, and effect.
How would you like to be a hero in your story, personally or professionally? Would you like to grow stronger, have a more significant influence on your world, and make a positive impact? I bet you do. All you need to do is develop your potential. If you do, you’ll become potent. But here’s the bad news. Not everyone will listen to what I have to say about reaching their potential. It takes hard work. Yet only 25% of you will actively pursue becoming the person you were created to be. Why? You know the typical reasons: not enough time, other priorities, no resources or support. Let me ask you some questions. What if you embarked on a development journey? What if you reached your potential? What would it look like? What would it mean to you, personally and professionally? How would you and those around you benefit? What if you don’t? “Composer Gian Carlo Menotti forcefully stated, ‘Hell begins on that day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts we wasted, of all that we might have done that we did not do. Unrealized potential is a tragic waste.’” 
Hell begins on that day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts we wasted, of all that we might have done that we did not do. Unrealized potential is a tragic waste.Gian Carlo Menotti, Composer
Reaching your potential is a choice. You choose to pursue fulfilling your potential by engaging in personal and professional development, or you can choose not to – waste it or unlock it.
8 Ways to Unlock Your Potential
Do you wonder why you haven’t accomplished more with your life? Do you feel that you have great potential locked up inside of you? Most adults feel this way. No one ever truly reaches their potential, but it’s discouraging that so many of us never even scratch the surface of our potential. Are you ready to find out what you can do?
Find out what you’re capable of accomplishing:
- Be bold. This is the number one tip for unleashing your potential in the world. Your limited achievements are likely since you’re timid. If you were out there doing your best each day, you’d be too busy piling up successes to read an article like this. Stop caring about the opinions of others and show the world what you’ve got.
- Have bold goals. To live up to your potential, you need goals. Goals provide a direction for your energy and effort. Effective goals are motivating, which is great if you’re going to set bold goals! Avoid overwhelming yourself. Goals should be audacious but not overwhelming.
- Combine your strengths and interests. Do you care about maximizing your chess-playing potential if you don’t enjoy playing chess? You’ll have the most potential in the areas where you show natural strength and have a high level of interest. What are you good at that you also enjoy?
- Get expert assistance. Some of the leading experts in the world still have a coach or mentor. The right mentor can help you reach your potential faster than you can do it alone. Spend the time necessary to find a good mentor. It’s like putting your progress on the fast track.
- Make progress each day. A small amount of growth accumulated over time can result in fantastic improvement. Avoid overwhelming yourself by setting a schedule or goals that you can’t maintain. But, be sure to make some progress every day. The amount of progress you can make in a year would be staggering.
- Develop habits that help you accomplish your goals. Keeping with the same theme of making progress each day, your habits are those things you do each day—an effective set of practices all but guarantees success. Examine your goals and determine the habits that would make success likely. The most challenging job you have is creating habits. Once the proper practices are in place, there’s little else to worry about. Create an effective routine and stick with it.
- Determine your obstacles. There’s always something in the way. It might be a lack of time, money, or other resources. Maybe you have a spouse that demands a lot of your time. Perhaps you live in the wrong place. After all, it’s not easy to maximize your surfing skills in Kansas. Create a plan for dealing with your obstacles. What can you do to overcome them, or at least minimize them? What do you need? What do you need to stop doing? How can you alter your life to make success more likely?
- Expect success. If you expect failure, you’re bound to fail. Why not give yourself the benefit of the doubt and expect good things? If you have solid goals, good habits, and a smidge of discipline, there’s no reason to doubt yourself.
Making a few decisions, acting boldly, and finding a mentor are just a few of the things you can do to unlock your potential. Choose to realize your potential. Please don’t waste it. Make today the day you start living at your highest level. Become potent – grow more robust, have a more significant influence on your world, and make a positive impact. What are you waiting for?
Do you want to discover more about reaching your potential? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
 Excerpt From: John C. Maxwell & Jim Dornan. “Becoming a Person of Influence.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/becoming-a-person-of-influence/id607555354> Read More
I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
Let me help you reach your potential.
I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.