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Do I Really Know What it's Like?

Updated on December 2, 2015
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In my many years doing all aspects of sales and various other management and leadership positions, I’ve always dreaded these words. In some ways I’ve felt that my positions were not due to me having any real expertise or knowledge, but only because I was hired on a different career track than the front line people. However, as time went on and I became more mature in my job, I realized something different—that I do know what it’s like, but from a different perspective. More importantly, this alternative perspective and career track is perhaps more challenging and difficult than being a front line worker, because you are responsible for the success or failure of everything, and it’s all based on your leadership ability.

“You don’t know what it’s like” is a phrase I dreaded to come from any of my salespeople, who were grinding away every day; making cold calls, tracking their prospects, responsible for making their assigned monthly quota. I felt that since I never had these specific duties, I couldn’t possibly understand what the life of a real sales person was. I felt like I was a fake, and I dreaded that someone would find out.

I was a junior operations manager and had been in my position for about 3 months when I did get these dreaded words; a manager for one of our field offices said this to me when I was calling him on his lack of attainment during the middle of a month. He essentially said that because I have never been in the field and under the pressure of making the assigned monthly sales quota, that I don’t understand how difficult it was; there was no way I could know the pressure of being on a mission. I froze up for what seemed an eternity, but in reality it was a micro second before I responded. “Well”, I said, “Maybe I have never been under the same pressure as you have been in this specific field, but I can tell you that based on my recent conversations with you, the fact that you leave the office at 2 pm every day, and don’t follow up on the prospects you do have lead me to believe that it’s the lack of effort on your part that’s causing your problems and not the lack of sales experience on my part.” It was his turn to be silent. When he did speak again, I could tell that I had poked a hole in his bubble and he answered me in clipped tones. “OK, we’ll continue prospecting.”

That conversation was like a lightbulb going off for me. I had started this job knowing how much responsibility I had, and not having the sales background, but expected to succeed. I nurtured my self-doubts to the point that I believed them wholeheartedly; that I was no good, and someone was going to see that I was a fake and call me on it. I was right only in the fact that someone would call me on it, but I was wrong for the other thoughts. When I was called on my inexperience, I handled it in a professional way, and realized that I had more knowledge and proper intuition for the business than I gave myself credit for. In fact, I believe that I wore my self-doubts on my sleeve, and my mistrust of my own abilities and skills allowed someone who was weak in their own abilities to question my abilities and experience.

This incident happened almost 15 years ago now, and since then I’ve risen through the ranks of my industry, overseeing operations and sales nationwide quite successfully, but this one incident stays with me. This incident which solidified my view of my professional abilities should have never taken place though. Any person who is hired to a position has already proven they have the skills needed to succeed; the most important thing we can do is to prevent ourselves from messing this up. I know I certainly came with a long list of credentials and experience, but I let my fear of the unknown get the best of me.

I believe that many of us have these fears, and too many talented people let it get the best of them, and that prevents them from succeeding. So when you start asking yourself, “Am I good enough?” The answer is yes.

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