It’s not a Glass Ceiling It’s a Mirror

7 minute read

Ok, so before you get uppity or offended by the title of this post, it’s not some misogynist, racist, or other prejudiced rant against women, minority groups, or any other classification of workers. I do believe the Glass Ceiling is indeed a very real issue that discriminates in all too many cases against the aforementioned – but that important topic is for a different day. This post is about overcoming the limits we sometimes place on ourselves as we compromise our ambition or self-belief. I believe – or rather I have an idea, as beliefs are always less open than ideas – that each individual can achieve what ever he or she sets out to do, and with few exceptions, the level of accomplishment is within each individual’s control. If a Glass Ceiling exists then perhaps it is, in part, self imposed. Your self-image, what you see when you look in the mirror each day, is often a more powerful determinant of aspiration and potential attainment than any other factor.

I write this post now in response to many conversations I’ ve been having over the last few weeks as (sales)people struggle with change, uncertainty, and the volatility that’s seems ever-present in the current global condition. At times like this it may be useful to reflect on 7 key principles that you can fall back on to guide you through turbulent times in life and business.

You should only read on if you believe that you’re in charge of your future. It’s not predetermined. Yes, it’s impacted and influenced by external events, but it’s not your government, employer, customer, husband or wife, bank manager or religious leader who ultimately determines your destiny. It’s you, and in difficult times, that’s the first principle that you have to accept. Then you can take control of your own journey. Otherwise, like some pliant sapling blowing in the wind, you will be buffeted from side to side, and your future outlook will just be a matter to be determined by that irascible compass – lady luck.

If this seems a little like an extract from a self-help book, then so be it; but there are few professions where the inner strength of the individual protagonist is as critical as that of the professional salesperson. During each sales call, he (or she) puts his own credibility – and that of his company – on the line; he is often the sole arbiter of success or failure, and he always faces the risk of rejection.

I’ve arranged these 7 principles in a mnemonic, so they are easy to remember.

  1. Ambition
  2. Commitment and Resilience
  3. Honesty and Integrity
  4. Inquisitiveness and Learning
  5. Empathy and Perspective
  6. Vision: Innovation and Leadership
  7. Enterprise: Hard Word, Strategy and Execution

I will explore each of these in more detail in a future post, but let me give an outline of what I’ve experienced and observed.

Ambition: There’s that U2 song that goes “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It’s implied that Bono at least has an idea where he’s headed, where the rainbow ends, and what’s in that pot of gold. To achieve your ambition, you first need to be very clear as to what it is. As a sales person you’re probably competitive. You’ve lofty goals.

I think there are two main questions you should ask yourself; “Do I know what I really want to achieve?” and “Is my goal ambitious enough?” A ‘shoot for the moon’ goal is a wonderful motivator. By figuring out your personal outrageous goal – conceived in a moment of suspended reality – guides you to realizing what just might be possible. Then you get to thinking about how to achieve that ambition by breaking it down into attainable and realistic steps. Winning sales professionals do this in a smaller way every day as they strategize how to maximize revenue from an account, or just win a single deal. It then becomes the art of the possible, as they visualize the realization of the ambition – in the form of a plan.

Commitment and Resilience: How badly do you want it? Will you stay the course? As you look around you will invariably see examples of seemingly ‘lucky’ people for whom everything just works out. Evidence of their hard work is sometimes hard to see. However, as the saying goes ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’, and occasionally when things seem just impossible, you’ve got to dust yourself off and and step up again. Enduring hardship is frequently the bedfellow of success, so you’ve got to be committed to your goal and both resilient and relentless in its pursuit. I’m not proposing continually chasing a lost cause – as you know in the context of selling, I’m a big proponent of qualifying out early – but when you continue to do the right thing, and stick with it, good things invariably happen.

Honesty and Integrity: For me, these are two of the least understood, and most undervalued, personal and business assets. A reputation for being honest or having high integrity is priceless. It brings trust and openness, deeper relationships and more productive engagement. I like defining trust as ‘truth over time’, and it’s hard to win but easy to lose. From a purely pragmatic perspective, always being honest means you never have to remember what you said or come up with different versions of the truth for different audiences. In business generally, and particularly in sales, these assets cannot be over-valued.

Inquisitiveness and Learning: As any guy or girl will tell you, when on a first date, it’s more important to be interested than interesting. As a business professional you need to be inquisitive about what matters to others. In sales that means you need to be inquisitive about what matters to your customer, and less focused on what ‘interesting’ stuff you have to tell him. However, if you’ve been honest, and have a relationship for having high integrity, you will be come to be treated as a ‘trusted advisor’ and then you need to be interesting as well interested, and that’s where the learning comes in. If you’re in the right job/company/industry, this should come easily for you. You will have a natural passion for what you do, and reading the trade press or industry journals will be something you choose to do, rather than feel you must. Without this passion, you will find it hard to be naturally inquisitive and driven to learn more, and then you’re possibly in the wrong job/company/industry – unless you’re happy to settle for mediocrity.

Empathy and Perspective: In a previous post I quoted Alan Kay who said that “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points”. Read that post for my thoughts on this matter.

Vision: Innovation and Leadership: Ambition without vision is dangerous and usually counter-productive. Vision elevates ambition to a higher place, one where your insight, founded on innovative thinking and thought leadership, propels you to the front. These twin tenets of vision are usually the issue of passion, but can only be fully informed based on Inquisitiveness and Learning, grounded in Empathy and Perspective. Another post about this soon.

And finally …

Enterprise: You’ve got to work hard, really hard, no really really hard, – no I mean harder than that even! You’ve got to come up with the right strategy to fulfill your ambition, and then through your own initiative and resourcefulness, determine how you best execute your plan. And then you must apply yourself. Unless you’ve got Commitment and Resilience you won’t reach the uncommon heights you’ve visualized in your ambition.

Did I mention you have to work hard?

At times like this, you might be forgiven for wondering how you’re going to survive, not to mention thrive. Take a moment, look in the mirror, and honestly determine for yourself whether you want to be in control. Then make the right decision. You get to choose. You get to decide if it is indeed a glass ceiling, or whether you can see a crack appearing through which you can determine your own future.



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