Nothing to fear but fear itself. Take Control!

5 minute read

How you act in difficult times defines how successful you are destined to be. It’s up to you. How badly do you want it?

One of my favorite books is one called “Great Speeches of the 20th Century”. (You can read it online for free). I like it because it throws light on the power of personal desire; the ability to get something done – if you want it bad enough. In here you will find the powerful orations of JFK, FDR, Churchill, MLK, Nehru and Mandela among others.

Three separate things I read in recent days reminded me of this book; 1. Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, 2. A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter, and 3. an article in Businessweek by Jack Welch called How to Seize the Storm; more about these later.

But first I wanted to share an extract from FDR’s famous ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ speech. Remember this was March 1933, and FDR was addressing a nation of closed banks, shattered confidence and millions without work or hope. Sound familiar? He spoke of ‘action and action now’.

FDR spoke of the reasons for the Depression. ‘Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure and have abdicated.’ (Today we might complete the triad of failure by adding ‘greed’ to the mix). He goes on to say, ‘Happiness .. lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. These days [should] teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto, but to minister to ourselves.’ In other words – it’s up to you to take control.

The current economic maelstrom, coming as it does on the heels of a decade of abundance, has caused remarkable levels of fear and panic, in the world in general, in business in particular, and more empirically in sales organizations across the globe. Sales leaders are found with their heads in their hands, being drowned by the prospect of no prospects. Some sales leaders and senior executives have risen above this and are beginning to illuminate the way forward. I’ve seen the nascent realization that sales is the key to sustaining business, and nothing could be more important – or in truth present such an opportunity to sales professionals who are prepared to take control, with ‘action and action now’.

And that brings me to Colvin’s new book.

Expanding on a landmark cover story in Fortune magazine, Colvin debunks the myths of exceptional performance as a consequence of exceptional DNA – but from practice and perseverance honed over decades. And not just plain old hard work, but a very specific kind of work. The key, according to Colvin, is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness. In the world of sales this points unerringly towards adopting, practicing, and evaluating sales best practice. Colvin argues, and you’ll find no disagreement here, that the skills of business, sales, negotiating deals,all obey the principles that lead to greatness, so that anyone can get better at them with the right kind of effort. Even the hardest decisions and interactions can be systematically improved.

And that brings me to Urgency, the latest publication from John Kotter. Rated the number one “leadership guru” in America by Business Week magazine, Kotter is the premier voice on how the best organizations change. And if there was ever a need to change – now is the time.

In Urgency Kotter shines the spotlight on the need to have a sense of urgency by getting people to actually see and feel the need for change. Why focus on urgency? Without it, any change effort is doomed. For me Kotter once again underlines the need for ‘action and action now’, but goes beyond that to keep fanning the flames of urgency even after your transformation effort has scored some early successes. As individual sales professionals, sales leaders or CEOs consider how to survive and grow in these turbulent times, Kotter’s message is clear. Change, change fast, and support the change with systems and process to drive and sustain the change. The good news is that the opportunity is large and compelling for those who grasp the opportunity and act now. The tools, systems and processes exist today to help you close more deals, shorten sales cycles, and become a true partner with your customer – as you help them face their own challenges.

Jack and Suzy Welch’s article in Businessweek is more about tactics for guiding your company past this crisis – but there are lessons in here for sales professionals as well. It doesn’t make happy reading – but the lessons are relevant nonethe less.

  1. Plan as if the downturn will be longer and harsher that you think – for sales leaders and individuals, this means getting more in your pipeline now, and making sure that your deal close rate improves.
  2. Energize your people with a bonus plan – for sales leaders; if the targets are too aggressive, take a look at revising them. Unachievable targets are only demoralizing.
  3. Do everything you can to buy or bury your competition – make sure that your sales approach has a built in competitive strategy methodology. IN times of shrinking markets, the way to survive and grow is by taking deals from your competition.

So, what can we learn? I think it’s pretty clear.

  1. You first need to decide how badly you want to succeed, and how hard you’re prepared to work.
  2. You need to adopt best practice, and then practice it.
  3. You need to plan for the worst, but put a plan in place to minimze risk, and grow upside
  4. You need to act, and act now.

You’ve nothing to fear but fear it – it’s up to you to take control.



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