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WANT To or CHOOSE To?—Revisited

“I want to have some time to think or to plan, or to just take a day off,” Ron, a regional sales manager, recently told me.

“Can’t your assistant help take some of the workload off your shoulders?” I asked.

“Right now,” he responded, “I don’t have an assistant.  Terri, my former assistant, left four months ago, and I haven’t had a chance to replace her,” he continued.

“Have you scheduled the time to search for a replacement?” I queried.

“Well, no,” came his reply.

I told Ron that he had just provided me with the perfect example of the distinction between wanting something to happen (a “WANT to”) and choosing to do something about it (a “CHOOSE to”).

“We WANT a lot of things,” I explained.  “I want to learn a language.  I want to exercise every day.  I want to give more of my time to more of my favorite charities…”

“But until those things are on my calendar,” I continued,  “It’s clear that I’m not CHOOSING to put them into my life.”

I explained to Ron that while he WANTED more time to think, plan, and play, he hadn’t yet CHOSEN to calendar the search for a new assistant.

“The ‘WANT to’ is there,” I told him, “But the ‘CHOOSE to’ isn’t.”

In the course of my life, I’ve talked with at least a hundred people who have been losing the same 20 pounds for nearly 20 years.  I feel for them.  There is no doubt they WANT to lose their extra weight, but for many, that want never seems to rise to the level of a powerful decision or choice to let nothing stand in their way.  They join programs and then slowly work their way out of them.  They monitor their food habits for weeks, but eventually stop.  And they’re frustrated because nothing seems to work.  Like Ron, they walk around unhappy and tell the story of how they can’t get what they want.

To be happy, they either need to choose to make what it is they want happen, or decide that it’s okay not to have it.  If English is my only skilled language, I guess I could live with that.  If the unsuccessful dieters can stop beating themselves up and just accept that they enjoy their lives at the weights they’re at, they will be happier!  And if Ron could accept that he will never have time to think, nor plan, nor play, he might be happier, too…

Or…Ron can schedule time to recruit and train a new assistant, I can schedule language lessons, and those who want to shed tummy-pounds can find, start, and stick to a weight-loss program that’s right for them, once and for all.

It isn’t always easy, but it’s always up to you how firmly you’ll commit to attaining your goals.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as taking the time to find expert help with the stuff that feels impossible.  Want something to change?  Choose to change it at all costs.  Put it on your calendar.  Enroll in a program.  Seek advice.  No matter how challenging, persist until you achieve it.  Keep REACHING…


“I need to learn some new prospecting strategies,” Erin, an advisor in the Midwest, was telling me.  “I’ve done okay,” she continued, “But what I’ve been doing doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere lately.”

I asked Erin about her practice.  “How many clients—households—however you measure it, do you have now?” 

“About 300,” she advised.  “A few are what I would consider clients, but most are really just one-time ‘customers’.”


“Then you don’t really need to learn new prospecting strategies at all,” I suggested.  “What you need is to turn some of those customers into real clients and some of the ones who are already clients into fiercely loyal advocates.”

Most sales training programs for professionals are based on the theory that sales is a “numbers game” and nothing more.  While the quantity of people you reach out to is important, the quality of your contacts is equally—or more—important.

If our work is really finding a lead, making a sale, and then going to look for another lead to make another sale, then going to look for another…and so on, it can be exhausting.  We’re starting at the beginning every time.

Leveraging existing relationships is a more efficient, more powerful way to grow any service business.  Leveraging involves two actions: (1) Finding more ways to serve existing customers and clients, and (2) Being referred to new clients, through them.

“If I went through your notes or ‘fact finders’ on all of the people you’ve identified, would I think of things that you could offer them, that you haven’t yet?” I asked Erin.

“Probably,” came her honest response.

“Would that be true even of the ones you’ve identified as real clients?”  I continued.

“Actually…it was them I was thinking of,” she replied.

“What stands in the way of your approaching them to talk about some of those things you haven’t talked about?”

“Nothing, I guess.”

We then went through and discussed each client she identified as being in her “Top 20”.  Several of them hadn’t heard from her in months—or, in a couple of cases, more than a year.  Here’s what we agreed upon:

1. Finding more ways to serve existing customers and clients.  She’d start with the clients she’d most want to replicate and truly serve them.  This means making sure that anything they might need that she is equipped to provide must be discussed.  They can, of course, choose not to take her advice, but she wouldn’t be serving them by avoiding or forgetting to cover those topics or products.

Truly serving them also would mean that she’d refer them to other professionals in her network to meet needs that she herself is not equipped to help with—even if she’d make no money from it.  Unsolicited referrals will start to come in from existing clients the more you position yourself as the “expert” in all of their needs.  And it won’t be coincidental that as you refer your clients to other professionals, you will begin to receive referrals from those professionals, also.

2. Being referred to new clients through them.  When Erin thinks she’s done everything she can for them, she’ll have to confirm that…with them.  She’ll need to let them articulate to her how great her service is and ask them if she can similarly help someone else in their lives.

Her first step in getting referrals is to EARN them.  When that’s done, she ought to tell clients she has the time to add to her roster someone they care about who might not be getting the same level of service elsewhere.  The odds are good that in most cases, someone will come to mind.

“Figure out how many appointments you want to keep each week,” I told Erin, “And when you don’t have enough prospects through the methods you’re already using, fill those meeting slots with service to your existing clients and requests for referrals.”

Serve your existing clients by providing quality in every way you can.  Then talk with them about helping their business associates, friends, and family members.  Leverage your best, and keep REACHING…


Simple Pictures Are Best

When my daughters were little, I used to love to read them a particular book.  The book is so seemingly outdated that it has only recently been revived from out-of-print status by the miracles of internet shopping (and used copies now sell for just a cent).  It’s called Simple Pictures Are Best.

It’s the story of a farmer and his wife who decide to buy each other a photo session with a professional photographer for their anniversary.  The fun begins when the photographer comes and the couple can’t decide what to wear, where to sit, or what to include in the picture.  The farmer ends up wearing his new shoes on his feet while showing off his old shoes on his ears with arms full of farm produce.  His wife wears both of her hats, brings all of her pets, and stuffs her hands and pockets with kitchen and gardening utensils.

Each time the couple decides to add something to the picture, the photographer warns, “Simple pictures are best!”  But the couple continues to ignore him and assembles everything they can into the picture.  Finally, the commotion causes their bull to charge at the photographer, and the only picture taken that day…is of the bull.

Simple Pictures

Recently, I worked with Ryan, a client whose company provides computer graphics packages to financial services companies.  Ryan was running two huge, expensive half-page ads weekly in a local paper with a broad-based readership.

“How much business do these ads generate?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” was his reply.

It turned out that he had been running these ads for years, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, but had never asked his new clients how they found out about his company, and had never asked existing clients whether they had even seen the ads.

“If you don’t know whether there’s any benefit to running these ads,” I asked him, “Why do you keep running them?”

His real answer took several minutes to get to.  He told me about how he had started these ad campaigns along with several other very broad marketing efforts years before.  He also disclosed that he was still paying for a lot of other advertising and marketing efforts, without knowing whether any of them were working.

I thought of the farmer with the shoes on his ears and his feet and arms full of produce.

“Simple pictures are best,” I said to Ryan.

Science often adheres to Occam’s Razor, a theory which tells us that when there are several competing explanations for something, the simplest explanation is probably the right one.  More or less, it says, “The simplest of all possible solutions is preferable.”

Similarly, the “Simple Pictures” rule tells us that if you have a practice you’re looking to grow, the simplest marketing picture is probably best:

1. Be very clear on your target.
2. Choose strategies that are designed to reach that very clear target.
3. Test to see whether and to what extent those strategies are working.
4. Keep using the ones that work until you have the kind of business or practice you want!

Another principle I like to fall back on is K.I.S.S.

Create a simple picture that works for you.  If you want to climb high…get a ladder, and then, keep REACHING…



Recently, my friend and colleague, Lynn Schaber, told a story in her own weekly e-letter that I felt inspired to share with you here:


Over 20 years ago, Lynn heard a tale from speaker Danny Cox, a professional trainer—the “Sonic Boom” Salesman.  He was known for his work as an Air Force spokesperson, addressing communities affected by jets that broke the sound barrier.  Before that, he had been an Air Force pilot, testing those very first sonic-boom flights.

Danny spoke of the day he was pushing 700 mph to break the barrier, when his plane went into a Death Roll.  (You don’t have to try too hard to imagine what the usual result of a “Death Roll” is.)  The plane was tumbling end over end.  In terrifying circumstances, instinct tells you to do everything you can to fix the problem—specifically, in this case: “Get the plane back under control.”  Later, experts told Danny that what he did right away probably saved his life.

Danny did nothing.  In the initial moments after the Death Roll started, he didn’t make a single move. Then, after his mind spiraled through its options, he chose a course of action that stopped the spinning movement of the jet.

Don’t take this the wrong way.  Not one of us—Danny, Lynn, nor I—thinks that you should do nothing about a problem you’re facing…for long.  That would be deadly!  Dangerous anxiety and stress, even when tempered with the familiar feeling of your “comfort zone”, can wreak long-term havoc on your health, so the quick decision to make a change is often necessary.

What we are suggesting is that in a situation of dire panic, it’s perfectly all right—even optimal—to take a few moments to be still.  Take a long walk (if you can), breathe deeply, or as Lynn explained, “Step back and assess the landscape.  Give your brain a chance to disengage from the panic and think logically.”  In other words, figure out exactly what’s happening, where you are, and what your options are.

You can, as Lynn recommends, ask yourself a specific question like any of the following:

1)   What can I do that will help the situation?
2)   What do I want to avoid?
3)   What would happen if I didn’t do anything right now?

During the times in my own life when I’ve been really worried about something, or confused by my alternatives—such as moments when my dream-job earnings have been down, or when I was facing surgery for my second battle with cancer—this “do nothing” advice has served me well.  Spinning (which I did plenty of) couldn’t have gotten me to a solution; unfettered, it would have been part of the problem that led to my end.

When the pressure is on and there’s an issue that needs to be resolved NOW, take a pause for just a few moments, and do nothing.  Let the plane continue to work its way downward, until you’re clear on the course of action to bring it back up.  Then, do what logic tells you—or, better still, just do what feels right at that moment.  As I discuss in The High Diving Board, there are no “wrong decisions” when choices are made from that intuitive place inside you—a place you can’t possibly reach the second after you’ve been tossed into the fray.


Start by doing nothing.  But next, when that moment of clarity comes—and trust that it will—keep REACHING…


Embrace. Your. Genius.

There’s a conjecture I like that we were all born geniusesEinsteins, Mozarts, and Picassos—and that somewhere along the way, many of us lost that heightened quality.


I’m not saying that we’re all duds now, nor that we all had perfect IQs back then.  I’m referring to “genius” as that special spark or talent—in anything—that’s far beyond the norm we’ve come to accept.  One of Webster’s definitions for genius is a person with “a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit.”

If you have a child—or niece, or nephew, or grandchild—who is two to four years old, you know that yours is a genius; but in a way, all of them are—and, most likely, you were one, too.

Maybe your genius had something to do with art.  You could see dozens of people and places in the green crayon swirl you worked so passionately to create.  Or, maybe yours had to do with flowers.  You spoke to them, and they spoke back and told you their troubles, and you helped them grow.  Or, maybe it was about insects.  You catalogued thousands of them using your own proprietary system.  But somewhere along the line, you became socialized.  You learned that what you were a genius at was not very relevant at all.

Imagine Miss Crabtree, gathering her kindergarten class for story time:

“Albert!  Stop watching how the light moves through the window to the floor.  It’s story time right now.  Please, join the circle…Wolfgang, you too!  Stop ringing those different sized toys against the desk to see how they sound…What’s that Pablo?  Yes, that’s a very nice picture of…your mother and father?  Oh, it’s just your mother…Very good, but next time, try to give her just one face.”

So, we grew up to become accountants, advisors, lawyers, managers, and consultants, going through our adult lives with a feeling that we’ve forgotten something.  And, of course, we have.  We’ve forgotten that we were geniuses—or even what we were geniuses at.

Once in awhile, though, there’s a glimmer of recognition—and somewhere deep inside, we do remember.  Oddly enough, instead of embracing whatever it was that made us geniuses, we push it out of our minds.  We’re afraid that allowing it in, at this point, will somehow disrupt our lives.

The next time you feel that spark, though, do something wonderful—and unusual—for yourself.  When that flash of recognition is triggered, take some small step toward embracing your childlike genius.  Buy that telescope, or that guitar, or those oil paints, and play with them.  Maybe you won’t be an Einstein or a Mozart or a Picasso, but you might find some joy and fulfillment that you’ve been missing.

In the meantime, bring the spirit of play to your work, and keep REACHING…

100th Birthday Party: Your Mission Statement

“I know I don’t want to do this anymore,” Erica, a financial advisor working for a large firm, complained to me during our first call together,“But I just don’t know what I do want to do.”

“Erica,” I responded, “Imagine you’re at your 100th Birthday Party.  Gathered around you are all the people you love and who love you—your children, your grandchildren…maybe even your great-grandchildren.”

100th Birthday

“One of your great-granddaughters has just asked you to tell the story of your life,” I continued.  “What do you want that story to be about?”

“I don’t know,” Erica persisted.

“Well, what do you want to be remembered for?” I pressed.

“I want them to think I was adventurous—maybe eccentric,” Erica began.  “I want them to think I was a good Mom,” she continued.  “I want to be able to tell them about my travels.”

Erica was beginning to enjoy the game.

“I want to be able to get away when I feel the urge—to have some kind of work that doesn’t tie me down to an office like I am now.  I could work from home, pick my own hours, and make house calls, or rent some space if I needed to bring some people to me.”

By herself, Erica had switched the conversation from how she would like to be seen and remembered to what she wanted her life and her work to look like.

“Would that work be in the financial field?” I asked.

“It could be, I guess—at least in the beginning,” she responded, “But I might want to write something and maybe try to sell some things on line—helping people manage their own finances—or helping other advisors to cope or change, like I’m doing.  If I had a business selling things like that, I could be helping people, and earning money even while I traveled.”

In a matter of minutes, with the help of the 100th Birthday Party Game, Erica had found direction and was working on her Mission Statement.  (This exercise can be completed in detail with the help of my book The High Diving Board: How to Overcome Your Fears and Live Your Dreams.)  One of the best things you can do for yourself is to sit down and write out your own Mission Statement.  What do you want to stand for?  What do you want to accomplish?  How do you want to be known?

What’s the story you want to be telling at your 100th Birthday Party?  Writing a Mission Statement will help you live your life on purpose.  All you have to do is make sure that everything you do each day is in some way connected to the mission you’ve chosen for yourself.

I hope to see you at my 100th Birthday Party.  In the meantime, keep REACHING


See It from the Other Side

Reed, an advisor in LA, was telling me about his frustrations with a doctor-lawyer couple.  He thought they were already his clients, but he had left several messages for the lawyer-husband to set up a time to meet with them, and he had not yet gotten any response.

“I finally had a great conversation with his wife, and I told her I had been trying to reach him and schedule a time to see them,” he explained,  “But she told me that  because of his schedule, I’d have to set it up with him—right back to square one.”

“These are clients who are obviously not jumping up and down at the idea of meeting with you,” I confirmed, exhibiting as usual my keen grasp of the obvious.  “Do they know why you want to see them?”

“Well, no,” he responded.

“Then why should they want to see you?” I asked, “You don’t have a close relationship with them and it looks like they’re pretty busy.”

“But I have this great product I want to convert them to,” Reed confessed.

“OK, that’s a good reason why you want to see them,” I conceded, “But they don’t know that, do they?  And even if they did, why would they want to see you to buy another product you think is great?”

“I guess there’s no good reason,” he concluded.

So, I pressed him a little more.  “Let me ask again, then.  Why might they think you’re reason for wanting to see them is great?”

After thinking about it for a few more seconds, Reed had some insight.

“This is one of the new policies that could add Long Term Care coverage to their existing life and disability insurance,” he explained, “and possibly without increasing their premiums.”

“Great!  So what if you let them know that this is the reason you’ve been trying to reach them?” I asked. “Do you think they might be more responsive?”


Reed now understood that he wasn’t getting the appointment because these clients assumed he wanted to see them to sell them something—a situation they probably wanted to avoid.  It was about him, and what was going on in his world.

He hadn’t thought to tell them why he wanted to see them, because he assumed that since they were existing clients, they would be interested in seeing him “just because”.

But all sales—even the sale of an appointment—happen in the client’s world, not in the advisor’s.  If you have not maintained a very close relationship, and their world is busy, they might not be interested in seeing you, especially if they don’t know why you’re reaching out.

If your clients aren’t responding, ask yourself how the client is seeing your efforts to meet.  Specifically:

Why would they want to set up a time to see me?

Why would they be excited to talk with me about what I want to show them?

When Reed asked himself these questions, he remembered that this was coverage he had already discussed with them and that they had decided against it because of the additional expense.  His was a new opportunity to have them snag that same coverage while limiting the expense they originally feared.

When he explained that to the doctor, she got her husband to set up a meeting for them right away.  In person, Reed discussed the benefits of the policy upgrade—and they applied for it at last.

Always look at your approach, and your services, from the client’s perspective.  How do you and what you offer fit into their world?  Keep asking, and keep REACHING…


Expectation vs. Agreement: Make Them Promise!

I often hear managers complain about how their expectations are not being met by their teams.  I hear all kinds of professionals complain about their staff, or their clients.  They’re expecting a certain result or behavior, and they’re not getting it.

The problem is in their reliance on expectationsManagement—of a team, of your staff, or even of clients—will always be accompanied by some disappointment in the performance of those you work with—that is, if performance is being measured against expectations.

Ron, a branch manager I’m working with, was disappointed in his agents.

“I gave my people a simple telephoning assignment on Monday along with a checklist, and when I asked them about it on Friday, only one of them had done the work, and none of them had turned in a checklist,” Ron told me.  “When I tell them what to do on Monday, I expect that they’ll do it and turn in the report on Friday.  Is that too much to ask?”

“No, of course not.  But what was the agreement?” I asked Ron.

Ron hesitated, confused.  “There wasn’t any AGREEMENT,” he replied.  “Most of them have been with me for years.  They know what I expect of them.”

“Maybe they do, and maybe…they don’t,” I suggested.

I explained to Ron that Management by Expectation has a lot of holes in it.  The details of what is expected may not be clear, even when you are certain they’re perfectly implicit.  The door is still open to excuses about why the job couldn’t be done.  And, most importantly, no one has actually agreed to do it.

By contrast, Management by Agreement turns a vague, one-sided expectation into specific promises.  In Ron’s case, it might look something like this:

“I’m giving you all this calling assignment and a checklist.  I’d like to know that all ten calls have been completed by Friday of this week, so please turn in your checklists to me that morning by 10 AM.  All ten lines should be filled out with useful information on the calls you made.  This is an important project for all of us.  Do you all agree?  Jane?  Pete?  Mark?  Does everyone understand exactly what’s being asked of him or her?  Any questions?  Great; so completed call assignments will be on my desk by 10 AM this Friday morning.  If there’s any reason any of you can’t complete it by then, or if you need any help from me or anyone else on the team to make sure that it gets done, please let me know today.”

“That’s a lot of work for something so simple,” Ron complained, “But I’ll try it next week.  I have another project like this one coming up.”

Two weeks later, Ron and I talked about his result.  “All of them, except the one guy who was out for three days, did exactly as I asked,” he confided, “And the one who was out came back in on Friday and asked if it was okay if he turned his in on Tuesday.”

Unlike Management by Expectation, Management by Agreement includes all of the following insurances against disappointment:

1. Specific details, including what needs to be done, by when, and how it (or progress on it) is to be presented, along with a request for confirmation that the details are clear.

2. A request for a verbal agreement and an upfront discussion about anything that might prevent the project’s completion, with an opportunity to negotiate different terms, if necessary.

3. An offer to provide any help that might be needed along the way.

Agreements are based on promises—a type of commitment.  Since failure to do the job is now the breaking of a promise, not just a failure to live up to your expectation, it is much less likely to occur.

You can always discuss consequences for breaking the next promise.  Let the team member come up with his own “punishment”.  I had one client agree that if he violated our agreement he would give me a $1,000 check payable to the campaign of the political candidate he hated the most.  Another agreed to jump into his swimming pool in a suit.

Years ago, one of my clients agreed that if he interrupted someone else at an office meeting again, he would run down the street in front of the office wearing nothing but his “tighty whities”.  By his account, he’s only interrupted once since then.


What works for managing team members and staff works for handling just about anyone, including your clients.  Don’t expect a certain action from them.  Have them agree to it.

Now, think up a failure consequence, and promise me you’ll keep REACHING…


Level Your Ego: BE A LOSER.

Are you one of the many financial and insurance professionals who have avoided approaching doctors, lawyers, CEOs, military generals, celebrities, and a host of other people you think are in some way above you?


My coaching colleague, Amir Karkouti, offered these words last week for professionals who are suffering from this fear-based affliction: “BECOME A LOSER…”

“LOSE the idea that any of these titles exist,” he tells his clients,

“LOSE the idea that the high achiever, because of his finances, doesn’t cry himself/herself to sleep at night…

LOSE the idea that CEOs have ‘made it’ and have something you don’t (made what?).

LOSE the idea that they won’t want to hire you because you don’t know what they know (after all, they don’t know what you know!).”

LOSE all the ideas and stories you’ve created about other people, so you can see them for who they really are.  The gap between “you” and “them” is imaginary, and sales can only happen when you can see yourself as part of their world.

Be a Loser, and be proud of it!  The more of your ego you lose, the less you’ll think that somebody is above you because he or she has made more money or is seemingly more accomplished.  Being a Loser in this way lets you build bridges to make relationships.

Amir explains that when you are a Loser, you win people’s hearts, and you win their gratitude.  You also win their respect.

So stop thinking you’re not at someone’s “level”.  Amir is right—levels don’t actually exist.  Or, if they do exist, there’s only one level that matters: the level of connection.  If you’re a Loser, you can be on the level with anyone in any field.

“And the only way to play on the level of being with another person is to
LOSE the idea of who we think they really are, by the arbitrary terms we’ve created…”

In the best business company, stop feeling like an imposter.  Allow yourself to be just as much a hero to them as they are to you, by LOSING the hero hierarchy altogether.  Agree to Be a Loser and reach for the stars, and then, just keep REACHING…


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