Category Archives: Psychological Strength

Inner Game for Competitors

Last time the Warriors were in the playoffs I had season tickets – saw Baron Davis posterize AK47. They went on to lose that series against Utah, though. These Warriors? Only they can beat themselves, which their accumulating injuries finally did last night. Very excited for next year, though.

I love winning. I FFFFFFFFIIIIIINNNNGGGGGG love winning. But I don’t like trying to win. Rather, I don’t like appearing like I’m trying to win. A colleague called me out on this once: “you like being the smartest person in the room without anyone thinking you are the smartest person in the room.” Guilty (of the liking part, not necessarily the being part). Guilty of following Robert Greene’s Laws of Power #3: “Conceal Your Intentions.” Which is a corallary of Law #21 “Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than Your Mark.” And Rule #30: “Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless.”

So, having just coached a group of young, male media salesguys, some reflections on competition. For sales is a game of competition played by fierce competitors. Victors feast; losers go hungry. Coffee’s for closers.

I gave these guys my standard Inner Game playbook. They grooved on a few points – Stoicism and Positive Energy – but clearly wanted techniques for closing deals now. I don’t blame them. They eat what they kill and have to hit quotas or they are out on the street. I get that.

I know a thing or two about sales, mainly from dodging overpaid, cocaine-fueled ex frat presidents pushing big bank Wall Street research on me. Oh yeah, with Harvard MBAs and such. In other words, more annoying and caustic than helpful. But a few of the good dudes have become close homies over the years.

Compete; but don’t be Competitive. I mean when you are with clients. Back at the office, thump your chest all you want. But as your client, I want to know what value you can add for me. As opposed to information about how I can help you win.

Here’s the three pitches I get all the time; guess which one works:

1. Bro, We/I need to do better in your research vote – what can I do to move up (we allocate millions of trading commissions each year based on a semi-annual voting process where we rank the Wall Street banks).

2. Bro, I wanna help you any way I can what can I do for you; my firm has great research.

3. Bro, I know you are busy and probably tired of salesguys hitting you. I have a few ideas and analysts that I think are pretty good. Can I throw one at you and see if it works? If not, no worries, I won’t bug you. What’s the best way to connect?

If you are sales guy and didn’t guess number 3 you probably won’t be a sales guy for long.

What’s behind Door #3? Humility. Patience. Empathy. Respect. Authenticity. Congruency.

WTH? Those aren’t lock-down red-meat eating win-the-new-caddie sales guy tactics!?!? Are they? Does this guy drink decaf? Cuz real closers drink the real stuff. What complete BS.

But hold on, player. These qualities work exactly because they aren’t standard sales guy hard-charging take-no-prisoner qualities. As an introverted finance geek doing gnome-like research all day, these qualities resonate with me. Me, the whale client whose millions you want. Robert Greene’s Law #43: “Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others.”

I think Authenticity is the most important characteristic for salesperson whose job involves anything more than order taking. Authenticity is the bedrock of relationships (I also happen to believe in ‘fake it til you make it,” but let’s set that paradox aside for a moment). I don’t want to be around you if you have negative energy flow. But if your positive energy flow is inauthentic, then gtfo. Even an authentic negative energy attracts more than a sacharine positive flow.

One of my old sales buddies, who is now my personal financial manager, always plays the curmudgeon. But its real. And endearing, when all his competitors are fake nice, he’s just a crank. He took the time to get to know me, though, figured out I liked basketball, and launched his first offensive with some Warrior tickets on a hot date with his top ranked Aerospace/Defense analyst. The analyst was so established he wasn’t even taking new clients. But he liked bball too, and happened to be in town so I got hooked up. I ditched the analyst later cuz he would eat his lunch on speaker phone while talking to me. Arrogance, writ large.

How to get Authenticity? Two things. Believe in what you sell and believe in yourself. If you love Coors Lite please don’t sell me Bud. If you think your analysts, research, and bank sucks, please don’t sell it to me. But I’ll take those Warriors tix, anyway, thanks very much (a joke, in case the lawyers are reading).

Believe in yourself. Your best self, that is, the one that’s stoic, enjoys life, rolls with the “invulnerable jollity of indifference,” proudly lives from your strengths and values, and is always congruent with your self. That’s what Inner Game is all about.

Stoicism – The foundation for a competitor’s philosophical grounding. You are going to get told no a lot. Be mentally prepared in advance so your energy level and motivation to make the next call are safeguarded.

Outcome Independence – The more you focus on a specific goal, the more power that goal has over you. Rarely is that power helpful; rather, it costs you mental energy and focus. Your focus should be on the client and the relationship. Not the numbers.

Positive Energy Flow – Many salespeople make the mistake of needing to prove themselves right with the client. Read your Dale Carnegie – rarely does winning an argument help you close. Drop the “Analytical Frame” and replace it with a relational and/or good times frame.

Know Yourself/Be Yourself – Employ all the sales tricks and techniques you want – as long as they are real to you. And as long you can respect yourself in the process. The minute you switch to games you don’t believe in, is the minute your client loses connection with you.

Stay In the Moment – If you do the above, you are freed to set aside stress and anxiety and worry and be completely present. Your client will feel the love and respond accordingly. If your mind is elsewhere, so will their’s be. Recent neurological research reveals that all humans possess a so-called “mirror neuron.” This brain feature drives our social connections. Thus your lack of mental presence will directly backfire on you.

Abundance Frame – The final phase and ultimate fulfillment of complete Inner Game – you give energy and value away consistently and unconsciously. Your clients begin to view you as a resource. They are drawn to you, answering your calls and returning emails and saying yes.

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Filed under Philosophy, Psychological Strength, Sales

Playing Defense: Pride versus Ego


When it comes to playing Defense, the opponent is yourself.  Here, paradox pops up again.  As it will, endlessly, in the tussle to win bizness victories.  Paradox:  have pride with no ego.

Pride gives strength;  ego, weakness.

Pride relates to self-perception.  Ego relates to others’ perception of you.

Pride walks; ego talks.

More paradox.  Winning biz championships requires mastering the social game.  It would seem, then, that we must care about what others think of us, as ego compels.  The truth, and paradox, is, the more we care about ourselves, and the less we care about others’ opinions of ourselves, the stronger our social status.  And elevating our situational status puts points on the board.

Pride truly motivates the player to up his or her game:  personal appearance, physical health, intellectual depth, charisma, charm, positivity, etc.  All steps Wannabes must take to escape the apathy of noobism.  Ego motivates the player to explain to others, errrrrrr, brag, how he is not a Noob or Wannabe but a true Boss.  Bragging grosses people out and has the (paradoxical) effect of lowering status in a lame attempt to elevate status.

I exploit ego weakness mercilessly.  Upwardly mobile execs display this weakness the most.  They’ve experienced some success.  Their career trajectory has inflected and is accelerating.  Adrenaline flows through their workday.  They feel they are winning the game.  They are little bosses projecting themselves forward into the Big Boss they are 100% confident they know they will become.

I roll into happy hour.  There he is, posted up at the St Regis bar, spitting at some hotties.  Its an industry trade show. Competitive spirits are juiced.  Drinks are poured, the conversational volume steadily rising.  I’m introduced:  strong eye contact, medium-strong handshake, biz card exchanged, I’m oozing warmth and happy-to-be-thereness.   Crack a joke or two, tease the attractive gal, she giggles, quickly find common ground while subtlety shifting into the Alpha position (back to the bar, leaning away, completely relaxed), offer a mild compliment.  Rapport fully established in three minutes, with a base of social strength under my feet, it’s time to dance.

My opponent subconsciously begins straining to keep his place in the shifting social hierarchy.  I”m rising, he’s stable, he likes me, but feels the widening gap even though he couldn’t explain it.

Another two minutes of convo, and I’ve demonstrated deep industry knowledge.  I make an off-handed comment showing my personal connections at higher industry levels than him.  All in the spirit comparing notes, talking shop, industry gossip, all very friendly.

Suddenly, I flip the script.  I directly challenge him and his division’s performance, and his company’s strategy.  Surprised by the sudden turn, he’s instantly put on the defensive.  He has no time to intellectually adjust, he merely reacts.   Let the bragging begin.

I’ve set him up.  He’s charmed, and startled, and feels instinctively compelled to explain to me how I’m wrong.  He feels the need to prove himself, since I appear to have higher status.   He brags up and down about his new products, new marketing tactics, new management techniques, blah blah blah, you go Mr Harvard MBA.  I look unconvinced.  He gets frustrated, tries harder.  Offers more evidence:  their next big thing, why nobody understands the brilliance they are about to shine.

I’m a complete stranger.  Why is it necessary that he prove himself to me? His ego, pricked by a situational social status wind-sheer, betrays him.  He just gave me his playbook. Unreal.

Now these junior exec guys don’t know enough to get anybody in real trouble;  they don’t hold the secrets that determine stock movements or anything like that.  But before they rise to the C-suites at the big game, they must be broken of ego.  A Boss can never talk freely.  That’s why he has IR, PR, and Corp Comm handlers.  They craft the bragging message for him or her.  So that it becomes the company messaging, not boss bragging.

Back to pride.

Pride drives excellence when no one is looking.  You are your only spectator.  You can’t lie to yourself, yourself knows you are bag of worthless noobsauce.  Pride makes you take steps forward to better yourself, for yourself.   And climbing from Wannabe to Boss Baller takes lots of steps.  Pride kills apathy.

John Steinbeck wonderfully captures this in his book Cannery Row (actual cannery pic above taken from my kayak in Monterey Bay).  The boys (Mack, Hazel, Eddie, Hughie, and Jones) move into their new pad, the Palace Flophouse.  Its an empty shack not fit for a animals.

“The Palace Flophouse was no sudden development…only a long bare room, lit dimly by two small windows, walled with unpainted wood smelling strongly of fish meal.  They had not loved it then.  Their eyes became outraged by the bare board walls.”

Then they paint the door.

“The apathy was broken then.  The boys outdid one another in beautifying the Palace Flophouse until after a few months it was, if anything, overfurnished.  With pride, the Palace became a home.”

Paint the door:  a metaphor for getting started on fixing yourself up.  Do one thing, taking pride in yourself, to better yourself.  Only for yourself, though, which brings strength, and not for the sake of others.  You cannot be motivated to lift, run, read, converse, grow, by the compliments of others.  Those compliments will come too infrequently, and make you needy.  Neediness disgusts people.

Every time you walk through your newly painted door, you will be visibly reminded that you are about your business of upping your game, errrrrrrrrday.

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Filed under Psychological Strength

Reviewing Other Playbooks – Bury My Heart at Conf Room B

Go forth, lead, live, authentically being your best self, and you will kick ass.

Sounds good. Let’s do it. Ready, break.

Then the book gets lost in a 5 step plan with 4-6 substeps each across multiple scenarios. Damn. Better hire McKinsey to help with the implementation. But then a storm of 28 year old MBAs telling you what you already know is rather unpleasant.

That’s a little unfair, but the whole simple methodology thing is an fatal flaw in most red and white covered biz books (thanks to Stan Slap for at least going with Black and Red). So before I carry on with my bitching, let me tell you about Room B’s premise. And I happen to whole-heartedly agree with it, bee dubs (for noobs and corporate stiffs, bee dubs is colloquial for BTW, as in Bee Tee Dub, the phonetics for BTW, which is texting short hand for By The Way – your welcome).

Premise: integrate your personal values into your workday life and you will become a more inspiring, effective leader. You will find your work and life better balanced. You will feel good about yourself. Higher innate passion and energy will drive you and your team to what the author calls the “Better Place.” Which helps you get out of the “Bitter Place.” Implied in the Better Place is crushing every quarter, slamming competitors gracefully, and Winning Togetherness.

If I could condense the book: Lead with your authentic, true self, driving forward with your unique personal values, while clearly envisioning your team with where you are going and how you are getting there.

So a book in three parts: find yourself, be yourself corporately, then envision your peeps. Then pop the champ and get your ring.

Conf Room B has extremely practical action steps for each phase. Its definitely a “how-to” book. That is its strength and its weakness.

Find yourself is not quite the simple half day task outlined early on. The author gives a list of 30 values to pick from. You quickly narrow that down to three. A brief exploration of how you got those values, and poof, self is found. No need to read Thoreau, Nietzsche, or your favorite religious or anti-religious authors.

From there, he wants you to stage a 20-minute launch event with your team. You explain your values, that you will begin authentically living them and leading with and through them, taking your team from the Bitter Place to the Better Place.

Good luck with that. If I were on your team I’d be LMAO’ing for days. Cheeeeeeeeeez.

But I see his point, from one perspective. You can’t sell your exec coaching services to a big enterprise unless you can offer a relatively instantaneous implementation plan.  Corporate Bosses are about Action and Results and Dynamic Change; not personal evolution.

Imagine this pitch to the SVP of HR: I will lead your most promising high potentials on a one year journey of self discovery, followed by a one to three year implementation phase. I then promise immense ROIC on my services in year five.

Haha, get real. Like not never.

But that’s the real real. Caterpillars may metamorphise (sp?) into beautiful butterflies overnight; managers into philosopher king leaders overnight, not so much.

Let’s step into the Real Talk Zone for a moment, noobs.

Here’s your average American’s value set: Comfort, Pleasure, Incremental Advancement (thanks, Consumer Capitalism Culture). I see it everyday in my own life, my own team, my own organization, and the firms I invest in. I do know some rock stars though, real corporate bad asses. Some of them are the best executives in the world. Some of them are start-up heroes. But they are maniacal psychopaths. No work/life balance for them. But that’s a topic for a different post.

The author brings in neuroscience for a brief moment. This is all the rage right now. Guys if you can just up your Testosterone (hit the weight pile, rookies) and Gals, your Oxytocin, or is it Oxycontin, I forget. Anyway, he asserts that failing to honestly live out your values at work will inherently cause dissatisfaction. You will generate too much adrenaline and cortisone. Next is burn out, passionless management instead of passionate leadership, ultimately leading to physical and mental health problems. Complete agreement here. Unfortunately, Slap (seriously, the guy’s name; Mom, Dad, really?), doesn’t further explore the brain chemical side of our existence any further. Just figure out your values and all your mental problems will be solved.

I actually agree with that last statement. That’s the whole point of OffWins: psychological strength leads to wins.

Remember the last point of our Psychological Weight Lifting plan: Find Thyself, Be Thyself. As biz bosses we want immediate results. Thus, I advocate the StrengthFinders thingy. Its quick, like 30 minutes, and starts helping you immediately. Over the medium term, you should read this blog. Over the longer term, you should grapple with life’s existential questions directly for yourself: Origin, Ethics, Meaning, and Destiny. Reading the thoughts of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived will help. But we’re biz bosses so we don’t really have time for Plato and Tolstoy. So I’ll read that stuff and blog it for you so you can skip step three until retirement, if necessary.

Value-finding, as advocated by Room B, is probably adequate as a substitute for Strength-finding. I actually think latter is superior, but its probably not a big deal. Superior because “Strengths” sounds more businessy than “Values.” Strengths are easier to discuss without cheez than Values. And lastly, the StrengthFinder stuff can be adopted by both Bosses and Minions (I make my team do it so I can better manipulate, errrr, manage them). Room B seems to focus only on the Boss: find and live and lead your values and they will follow, instead of helping them win by finding their own values.

Finally, the book suffers from grandeur – it proposes to be the only book on leadership you will ever need. It does this implicitly, by leaving out its sources, or describing how it fits into a broader journey of self-discovery. The Tibetan Monks would be seriously pissed off if they knew. But they are too busy living in the moment to be bothered.

So in summary, Room B fits nicely into the Playbook, but is not a complete playbook in and of itself. For our purposes, it helps with the grand task of learning how to live better in the workplace and be more effective as an intended consequence. I think I shall add it as a secondary reading rec in the Find Thyself/Be Thyself section.

Thanks, Electronic Arts for the book rec. And EA, noobs, bosses, players, and wannabes, is not the worst company in Murica. Proof: the last two Call of Dutys (an Activision game – EA’s primary competitor) failed to work properly on my uber high end Alienware and Razer gaming laptops, whereas Battlefield 3 worked perf. So GTFO with that worst company non-sense.

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Filed under Other Playbooks, Psychological Strength