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Selling from the Blind Side

By Paul Johnson

759 words. Abstract: Salespeople have a blind side, just like quarterbacks. A simple 3-step approach allows catastrophes to be avoided before your sales are sacked.

Are you prepared for what’s going to “get you” tomorrow? I’m not suggesting you live in fear or continually look over your shoulder. Yet I’m puzzled why people, especially salespeople, don’t invest in preparing for what they KNOW is bound to happen.

The movie The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock made people aware of the value of the left tackle. Most people might correctly assume that the quarterback would be the highest-paid member of a football team. What fewer people know is that the left tackle is often the second highest-paid member. Their job is to protect the right-handed quarterback from the rusher they know is coming from their left — their blind side. Football teams pay for protection — insurance, if you will — to prevent predictable problems before they happen. They know it pays to take the long view.

Tackle the Investment
Not taking a longer view is costly. You’ll waste important opportunities, and experience frustration, stress, and unneeded expense. Conversely, when you prepare to protect your blind side, you’ll gain confidence, make better use of your time, and enjoy more money and other rewards. You’ll find yourself long on success and short on failures.

Yet few people invest in protecting their blind side. Although they know specific problems will likely happen, they’re content to deal with them when they arrive. It’s hard not to fall into that mind-set today. Our fast-paced lifestyle makes it hard to do everything we know we should do, and fewer resources (“doing more with less”) further exacerbate these situations. Yet many times we erroneously choose to do the conveniently urgent instead of the strategically important work that will deliver consistently powerful performance.

If you’d like to avoid getting blindsided (again), consider using this three step approach.

I. Get Real
When you consider all of the places that problems can come from, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Gain some control by evaluating the threats; then you can focus on the ones with catastrophic consequences.

The odds are exceptionally high that the money you recently spent on your life insurance premium will be wasted today, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have invested in that payment because, if you did die today, the consequences could be catastrophic for your family.

While most of your business decisions don’t include death as a consequence, some are pretty serious. For instance:

  • Have you been selling to the “wrong” decision maker?
  • Does your new client really have the ability to pay you?
  • Will the objection you’re not prepared for tank your sale in the 11th hour?

Get real about your potential problems by evaluating their threat levels and then making sure you have prepared to pre-empt catastrophe.

II. Get Records
Once you’re aware of the potential catastrophes coming from your blind side, make plans in advance of them happening to avert them. By “get records”, I mean to write your plans down. Put every action plan into permanent media, a record of what will happen. Like records on a turntable, you want them to be repeatable and accessible. You want to be able to get your hands on the plans you want to use and the tactics you’ll employ at a moment’s notice.

III. Get Ready
Once you’ve evaluated potential threats and isolated the plans and tactics in the form of records that will help you avert them, it’s time to prepare. Review the records on a regular basis to ensure you’ll know how to foil impending catastrophe. Practice those tactics that will help you handle that objection you know is coming, or confirm you are indeed talking to the decision maker. Play your records over and over again so you don’t have to think about them.

Be Comfortable, Not Stupid
If you find yourself blindsided more often than you deem comfortable, you probably haven’t taken time to objectively assess impending threats. We all have too much to do, but don’t let that excuse doom you. When you take time to sit down and assess potential threats, you’ll discover that relatively few carry catastrophic consequences. Once you get clear on what those consequences are, you’ll find yourself motivated to address them… in advance.

If you want to be the highest-paid member of your sales team, you can’t do it if your blind side isn’t protected. Your company can’t hire you a left tackle, so you’ll need to put your own plans in place. If you’re ready to bring more power to your selling game, it’s time to Get Real, Get Records, and Get Ready.

The book called Top Dog Recession-Busting Sales Secrets

Click to learn more.

© 2010 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is an expert on ConsultativeSelling and co-author of the new Top Dog Recession-Busting Sales Secrets; get it at http://tinyurl.com/recessionbust. Learn about Consultative Selling at http://consultativeselling.com

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When did your preparation pay off when a potential catastrophe came knocking on your door?

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Comments (1) Jun 01 2010

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Ignorance Management and Health Care Reform

By Paul Johnson

1,365 words. Abstract: When you face a potentially life-changing decision, what’s your plan? Using the health care reform topic as an example, we’ll explore methods for managing our ignorance and making better decisions.

I’m betting you have an opinion about the U.S. health care reform legislation. It’s one of those big issues that can polarize the nation. I’m curious how you came by your opinion, how you decided which side to take. And I’m betting you decided wrong.

I challenge you to think about how you think. Your thinking leads you to decisions throughout your life. Some decisions are small, and some are large, like where you live, where you work, and who you marry. How you come to these larger decisions can have a serious affect on your future success and happiness. I fear your decision system is causing you to miss great opportunities because you don’t have a method for sorting past the confusion.

I could approach this topic from the seller’s side as I often do. Understanding human nature and how to deal with it can make us more effective sales people. However, this article will more directly benefit you if we look at from the buyer’s side. Specifically, how you buy into ideas that are presented to you. Once you are clear on how to help yourself, you’ll be in a better position to help those to whom you sell.

Mistaken Beliefs
Let me assume you believe that the 2010 U.S. health-care reform package is either good, or bad. Let me also assume you have not fully read (and understood!) the legislation. Therefore, you have come to your beliefs and taken your position based on information from other sources. Do you think that might be a problem? I confess… I have the same problem.

Everyday you and I make decisions that will affect our futures. Many of these decisions may be based on mistaken beliefs, and these beliefs can sabotage your success. Let’s take a few minutes to question where these beliefs come from so we can gain a clear vision of our future. By doing so, we can eliminate the paralysis (when we make no decision), the lost opportunities, the bad decisions, and the expensive mistakes that are keeping us from the progress and improved quality of life we seek.

Thoughtless Thinking

The Homestead Act of 1862

The Homestead Act of 1862. Click for a larger image.

Thinking today has its challenges. Life has grown more complex over time. The U.S. Census once mandated a simple headcount; now some lucky recipients get to answer a 14-page questionnaire. The health care reform package is well over a thousand pages. In contrast, the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave away 430 million acres of U.S. land to its citizens, fit on two handwritten pages. Then there’s the tangle called the U.S. Tax Code and the IRS 1040 form. Today we’re faced with many challenging decisions, some of them time consuming. Getting comprehensive information about the topic isn’t always the solution. We need something else.

We need to plan how we think, as it seems we don’t actually do this very often. It’s easier to default to a familiar decision system regardless of the potential impact of the decision. Instead, we need to stretch our critical thinking skills. We need to make time to decide how we’re going to decide.

Truthful Consequences
Begin by considering the consequences and the rewards associated with the decision and let that influence how you will think about it and how much time you’ll take to think about it. For instance, before committing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a home with a mortgage, should you take time to read the paperwork before you sign it? I believe the potential consequences merit that level of attention. What about terms for a new credit card? What about the list of ingredients on packages of processed food?

Many of us choose to ignore the ingredients list, because the worst that can happen for most of us is we ingest a few extra calories and a little too much salt. However, if you’re allergic to peanuts, the consequences of eating blindly can make you sick.

Conjoined Questions
To determine how you want to think about a decision and how much time you want to devote to that thinking, ask yourself these three questions:

  • What is the potential impact on me?
  • How much can I affect the decision?
  • What else at this priority level is competing for my time?

You must consider your answers to those three questions holistically, and then choose. Using U.S. health care reform as our example (let’s imagine there’s still a choice to be made), the impact on you will likely be significant and long-lasting. Those are good reasons to invest time in understanding it. However, your ability to affect that decision (should it become law or not) is somewhat limited, as we are depending on the representatives we elected to vote for us. Therefore, our ultimate decision would be to determine if we want to attempt to affect their decision. Whether you do that not will largely depend on your answer to the third question regarding competing priorities. Issues at home or at work may be consuming you to the point where you can’t justify diverting time and energy to persuading your Senate and Congressional representatives.

Ignorance Management
I suspect most Americans opted not to get deeply involved in affecting the health care reform process, but instead chose to figuratively shout from the sidelines. We often come to the beliefs that affect our decisions using four common methods:

  • Become An Expert. Actually, this isn’t terribly common because of the time starvation we face and the competing priorities we juggle. But in some areas of your life you are indeed an expert and can take confidence in your beliefs and the decisions that result.
  • Let Others Think For Me. This method falls at the other end of the involvement scale. In theory, this is what our elected government representatives are supposed to do for us. They’re supposed to be experts who will make good decisions for us (if we trust them to do that). As another example, I haven’t filled out a tax return in decades. I chose a CPA to help me decide how to best file my tax return. I give him some input, and he thinks for me.
  • Use A Litmus Test. You latch onto one issue for your deciding factor and ignore all else. For instance, when confused about voting for political candidates, it’s easy to pick one issue that you care about, such as abortion, gun-control, or immigration, then base your decision on that and ignore all else. Sellers often force buyers to resort to a litmus test. If the seller confuses the buyer with their sales approach, the buyer will frequently resort to the litmus test of lowest price, if they make a purchase at all; a confused mind says, “No!”
  • Validate Key Drivers. I recommend identifying the key drivers that will likely be associated with a successful decision outcome, and then testing the validity of those drivers.

For example, when choosing a mortgage the key drivers to investigate might include:
- the interest rate calculation method
- the terms should you default
- early repayment options and penalties

If these three key drivers meet with your approval and don’t raise any red flags, you may feel comfortable deciding to go ahead without studying the entire agreement.

If you sell, help your buyers work through this ignorance management process. It will allow them to make better decisions faster, and that can lead to a healthier wallet for you.

Decision Satisfaction
Ultimately, you want to plan how you’re going to decide important issues. You want to like your answer to, “Why do I BELIEVE the way I do?”

We know we’re starved for time, that we can’t be expert on everything. Not every decision can be about information and logic. Yet we can get clear on why we believe what we believe. Decisions based on untested beliefs are prone to failure. Make time for critical thinking. Consider the consequences and rewards. Decide how much you’re willing to invest in the decision, and then choose a decision process that will enable you to believe in your decision. Make time to learn, make time to think, and you’ll enjoy more opportunities for success.

© 2010 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is vice president at ConsultativeSelling. He works with great sales organizations like ADP, Nortel Networks and AutoNation. Discover the definition, application, and resources of Consultative Selling at http://consultativeselling.com/.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: How did you make a great decision when you didn’t have all the information?

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Comments (2) Apr 01 2010

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Your Performance Improvement Trap

We all want to be good at SOMEthing. When performance improvement is on your mind, it’s easy to fall for one particular trap that will surely hold you back.

For instance, it might be a trap for me to write on this topic myself. Why? Because somebody else has already written about it so well. Allow me to introduce you to Garold Markle, who is an expert at performance improvement in the workplace. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I am glad to see his book, Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review, continue to do so well. As you’ll see, one of his strengths is writing. Now I turn the “pen” over to him, so he can share with you…

THE WEAKNESS TRAP

By Garold L. Markle

What is the best thing to do with a weakness? According to the Gallup Poll data, the most successful managers don’t normally try to fix an employee’s weakness. Instead, they work around it. Ignore it, if possible. While this sounds counter intuitive to some, it actually agrees with what most of us have noticed in life. Consider coaching.

What would a football coach do with a short but fast player who has quick hands? Try to fatten him up and make him stronger? Of course not. The coach would place him in the defensive backfield where speed and agility are key. He would charge the small, fast guy with getting faster. Meanwhile, he’d take his biggest, strongest player and challenge him to become bigger and stronger.

“Markle! Don’t put the ball on the floor!!” That’s what my basketball coach used to scream at me. 40 years later, the words still echo in my ears. At six foot seven inches tall, I was not a very adept dribbler. When I tried to dribble, the ball would hit one of my feet almost as often as it hit the floor. On the other hand, I could rebound with the best of them. So what did the coach do with me? He asked me to stand under the basket and retrieve missed shots. Did he ask me to work on my dribbling? Are you kidding? He actually forbade me from doing it. I got benched if I dribbled the ball, even if I did it successfully. The coach made it clear that my playing time would be determined by my ability to rebound. If I wanted to maximize my contribution to the team, I would not attempt to become some kind of well rounded version of Michael Jordan. I would emulate Dennis Rodman – the ultimate rebounding specialist.

In Catalytic Coaching we ask managers to select four “Areas for Improvement” that they want a direct report to focus on for the upcoming year. Since we compel them to do this immediately after discussing “Strengths” it‘s quite natural that people draw the wrong conclusions. Their mind thinks in parallel structure. They select four things that form the person’s competitive advantage and call those Strengths. They assume then that the next section is where they “write him up” for his shortcomings. If they follow this instinctual path, however, they will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the coaching process. They’ll fall quickly into The Weakness Trap spending good energy on a bad idea.

For a fully functioning employee, Areas for Improvement are more productively focused on Strengths that a coach would like to see more of. I can recall several years ago praising an executive assistant for her “Organization Skills” under the Strengths section only to request that she use these abilities more aggressively as an Area for Improvement. Rather than smile with bemusement at how I muddled my complicated travel plans, I challenged her to take them on as one of her responsibilities. Was she deficient in travel planning? Absolutely not. She had never been asked to do it. It was, however, a wonderful way for her to enhance her contribution.

No matter what I say to managers and supervisors in coaching training sessions, people seem to miss this point. When I work with them one on one (in a ritual we call “In-Flight Training”) it is often their biggest revelation. “I didn’t know we could ask her to do more of what she’s good at,” they’ll say, despite the fact that I made this point several times in class. Once they have this experience, however, the light comes on and they advance to a different level of coaching effectiveness.

When people tell me that coaching becomes redundant over the years, often the reason is that they’ve fallen into a rut of treating Areas for Improvement like Weaknesses. Here’s what someone told me recently. “I’ve written Thomas up as needing to work on his Analytical Skills for the last three years. I can do it again, but I don’t really think he’s going to improve.” When I asked if Thomas was worth keeping, the answer was both quick and unequivocal. “Absolutely! He produces a high volume of work.” The only thing needed here was for the coach to refocus his employee’s improvement efforts on things that were more realistic and valuable. Challenge Thomas to do more heavy lifting, just don’t assign him tasks that require heavy analysis.

The same ideas apply at home. When a child walks through the door with a report card showing five As, two Bs and one D, what do we always talk to her about? The low grade, of course. We tell her how the subpar subject matter is critical to proper growth and development and force her to spend more time focused on areas in which she’s potentially ill equipped to excel. Instead of lecturing our mathematically-inclined daughter on the merits of mastering English and Geography, if that’s where she’s behind, perhaps we’d be better served to encourage her to focus the bulk of her attention on Physics and Calculus, where she sits at the head of her class. After all, who cares whether the nuclear physicist that designs the first truly viable electric car can write creatively or explain haiku? And her computer or secretary can clean up her misspelled words.

So how do we avoid The Weakness Trap? Consider taking the following actions:

  1. Design Around Weaknesses. Whenever possible shift roles and responsibilities to give those who work for you a chance to focus on what they’re good at and what they enjoy. Fit the job to the people and the people to the job. Not all accountants have to have identical responsibilities. The same goes for supervisors, managers and executive assistants. Few of us are universally talented. It is more important to create a team that wins through working together than to mandate that all jobs with similar titles are carbon copies.
  2. Shorten Improvement Cycles. If you’ve got a direct report that has a weakness that you can’t build out of her position (for example, a manager who can’t delegate), give her a limited amount of focused attention to make the improvement. In general, if she can’t start making demonstrable progress in a one to three month period, she is not worth spending additional time on. Great sports coaches move quickly when they determine that a player’s aptitude is insufficient for a given role. Remember that “Catalytic” means speeding the pace of significant change. In business, time is money. Repurposing or replacing usually beat rewiring.
  3. Focus on Strengths. Do your homework to determine what people are good at. Things they have a competitive advantage at. Identify activities that give them energy. Knowing someone’s weaknesses is valuable information for selection and placement decisions. If they’re not tall enough, fast enough, agile enough (in other words, a poor match for the position), consider making a change. If you’re going to coach them where they’re at, however, the key is to take what they’re good at and make it better. Do that and someday the Gallup Poll researchers will be writing stories about you.


About the Author of The Weakness Trap:

Garold Markle is author of Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review and No More Performance Evaluations! Gary is also founder and CEO of Energage, Inc. For more of his teachings go to www.energage.com.

This article was first published in Catalytic Connection in August of 2009. Copyright 2009 by Energage, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Garold L. Markle, glmarkle@energage.com.

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Comments (0) Mar 01 2010

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Can Sales Operations Mend “Broken” Salespeople?

By Paul Johnson

893 words. Abstract: All new sales hires are chosen for their talent and expected to succeed, yet the frustration as to why some fail to produce goes on and on. Before you have to cut more underperformers loose, consider the potential impact of sales operations.

Some salespeople do well in your organization, and some don’t. Why the difference? The more important question may be what can you do about the ones who are limping along? Could Sales Operations make a difference?

Not just sales managers, but all company executives want a smooth running sales operation. When revenue is unpredictable and fluctuates from month to month, management is hard for everybody. Frustration, poor decisions, finger-pointing, and waste are often the result. With steady sales, operations gains productivity and efficiency. The whole company gains stability, growth, and profits.

An Important Meating
In departments other than sales, operations are often process-driven and focused. The result is lean and efficient production. I was struck by the power of strong operations during a ride-along with a sales rep.

We arrived for our early afternoon appointment at a meat packing plant near Green Bay Wisconsin. As we pulled past the gate and approached the visitor parking area, we passed a long line of semi trucks hauling cattle up to the loading docks. A few semis passed us going in the other direction, pulling their empty trailers out through the gate.

Once inside, we met with the controller. As he began describing their operation, he casually mentioned “We process 2,800 head a day.” I didn’t hear what he said for the next several minutes because I was doing math. 2,800 a day… that’s about 115 cattle “processed” each hour. That seemed like a really big number to me. And tons of work — literally. They must have developed great processes for each employee in the back to use. And the director of operations would make sure each production employee used the SAME process. That’s where their productivity, efficiency and profits come from.

Divide and Conquer
I didn’t get to see what went on back there, but I’m pretty sure no one employee did everything. In other words, there was a team of people, each with different roles, who did specific parts of the process from the time the cattle arrived at the loading dock until the time the “finished goods” were loaded into refrigeration trucks at the other side of the building. A process is involved, but no one person handles every part of the process.

The concept of a process for selling is nothing new. However, it may be a mistake to expect the salesperson to handle every part of the sales process.

Many companies expect to hire the Swiss Army knife salesperson who can find the lead, respond to the RFP, create the presentation, do the demonstration, close the sale, and train the customer on use of the product. Sales Operations enables selling to be treated more like a multi-part production operation, where one person — the salesperson — is not expected to do three or more jobs. Instead, Sales Operations supports many functions of the selling process so that salespeople they can focus on what they do best: manage customer interactions.

Avoiding Sales Productivity Killers
It’s the distractions and job corruption that kill sales productivity. For example, new products are often released to the salespeople with the requisite brochures and spec sheets and some training from the product manager. From there, each salesperson is often left to figure out how to succeed in selling it. If you have 50 salespeople, there may be 50 different approaches taken in the field. Some of these approaches will succeed, and others will fail.

We were launching a powerful and complex ERP software system that would enable our customers to better run their businesses. Before turning the product over to the salespeople, we asked ourselves, “How can we make this product…

  • easy to present,
  • simple to understand,
  • memorable for customers
  • and compelling to buy?”

We developed a day-in-the-life scenario of how a business would use this software in their daily operation, and wrote a storyline that was brought to life through demonstration of the software. This would make it easy for buyers to understand how our software would help them solve their real-world problems. To make the presentation even more memorable, we grouped the software’s capabilities into seven primary functions and created a visual icon for each. After this approach was prototyped by the Sales Operations Group and proven to convert customers, it was rolled out to the Sales team.

As a result, this winning demo format was easy for the salespeople to learn and deliver in a powerful, memorable and compelling way. More importantly, it was easy for buyers to understand and remember why our software stood head and shoulders above our competition. Instead of each salesperson having to come up with their own presentation formula, the results of the work of a few in Sales Operations was multiplied across the entire sales department.

The Surgical Suggestion
If you have talented salespeople that fail to produce, they may not be broken. It’s more likely that you’re just asking them to do too many things. Consider how top talent in other arenas has support:

  • Musicians have roadies
  • Race car drivers have pit crews
  • Doctors have nurses

If you’re looking for more consistent and efficient production from your salespeople, cut away some of their duties and hand them over to a Sales Operations group. Even your top talent will be more productive if they don’t have to go it alone.

© 2010 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is an award-winning sales manager who explains the six competencies of the sales operations manager at http://salesoperations.us. He has gotten great results for some big players like Siebel Systems (Oracle), ADP and Akzo Nobel and works with medium to large corporate sales teams.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When did dividing a project or process into separate components cause everyone to be more productive?

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Comments (1) Feb 01 2010

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The Business of Living in 2010

By Paul Johnson

598 words. Abstract: Work-life balance is elusive. Maybe you could benefit from going back to something as basic as your definition of success. Do you have one?

It’s the time of year to celebrate, and our culture celebrates success. What successes of the past year do you have to celebrate? What did you DO with your life this year?

Sometimes it can seem that one year looks just like any other. You spend five days of every week at your job, and then jam chores, family, and friends into the weekends. You mix in a few holidays and take a vacation or two (yet one-third of Americans don’t take all their vacation days, forfeiting 4 of them). If this seems too familiar, I’m betting you’ve accepted someone else’s definition of success instead of creating your own. Perhaps it’s time to challenge the idea of what success looks like for you, and then make going for it your business in 2010.

Need ideas? Here are some ways others have defined success.

  • Success is a journey, not a destination.
  • Success is the achievement of something planned, desired or attempted.
  • Success is… making a difference, loving your work, financial freedom, independence, contentment (pick one).

When England was facing its darkest days during World War II, Winston Churchill redefined success so he and the British people could keep their spirits up and press on to victory. His definition: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

And then there’s this one: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

The late Earl Nightingale notes this: “Everything that’s free to us we place little value on. Everything we have to pay for we value. The paradox is that the exact opposite is true. Everything that’s really worthwhile in life came to us free. Our minds, our souls, our bodies, our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions, our intelligence, our love of family, children, and friends, our country – all these priceless possessions are free. But the things that cost us money are actually very cheap and can be replaced at any time. A good man can be completely wiped out and make another fortune. He can do that several times. Even if a home burns down, we can rebuild it, but the things we get for nothing we can never replace.”

Do we really need a bigger house, a newer car, a higher-status title on our business card? Or would we prefer to know that we have helped another, that we have been kind to our planet Earth, that we gave reasons to be remembered after we’re gone?

Maybe we make success too complicated and expensive. My son spent several weeks in Kenya living among people whose homes were made of dung, who found it futile to shoo flies away from their eyes and lips because their homes have no windows, and whose monthly income for the family was much less than $100. Yet my son remarked that these people were the happiest, most carefree people he’d ever met. It’s hard to imagine that a family living in a dung hut might have succeeded in being happier than you or I.

Perhaps success isn’t a measure of how much we have, but of how little we need.

Take an active approach in defining what success means for you, and then work toward that in the coming year. Stop letting others define success for you. Who cares if the Jones’ DO live next door? The business of living is your own business. A year from now I’d like you to be able to look back on 2010 knowing that you succeeded in taking care of some really important business: your life.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who gives teams the courage, motivation, and insight to overcome obstacles and create breakthrough growth opportunities at http://TroubleBreaker.com. Learn about business growth topics at http://Paul-Johnson.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What have you gotten for free that you now regard as priceless?

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Comments (0) Dec 01 2009