Seeing People Not for Who They Are — But Who They Can Be

Seeing people not for who they are — but who they can be

What do you do when a culture is rooted in toxic behavior that emanates right from the top? That’s the challenge Sharon-Drew Morgen faced when she was asked to train the sales staff of a major telemarketing firm on the practice of trust, integrity, and collaboration in supporting a prospect’s buying decisions. 

In her training, she noticed the sales people holding back their full commitment. She quickly realized how demotivated the sales team was, and sat down with some of them to learn about the problem. One of them spoke up.

“It would be great if we could really use this stuff. I mean, I can see where it would really work, and I wouldn’t have to feel like I’m being so abusive to the people I’m calling. But I don’t really think the company will let us use it. They don’t care about people. They treat us like subhumans, use abusive selling tactics for prospects and only care about the bottom line. If they found out we were using this type of approach they’d put a stop to it.”

Sharon told the group she’d think about the problem, but they seemed unconvinced that she could make a difference. Here is the rest of the story, in Sharon’s words:

Following the program, I went to the telephone bank where the salespeople worked and watched while the company’s senior vice-president came over to speak with one of the representatives. He interrupted her in the middle of a conversation. He then walked over to another person who was on a sales call and asked him why he had a personal photo on his desk, since none were allowed. At the desk where I was sitting was a memo from the same man, telling people they had to wear suits the following day and keep their suit jackets on between 11:00 A.M. and noon because prospective clients would be coming through the office.

I waited until the senior vice-president went back to his office and knocked on his door. Since I teach collaboration, I decided to assume we were in a win-win situation. He smiled and invited me to speak. “I’ve got a problem that I’m hoping you can solve. I’ve been hired to teach this new sales technology that really supports trust and collaboration. However, the participants are afraid to bring it back to their desks.”

He was a big man and an ex-Marine. He sat way back in his chair and rocked, smiling at me over a well-fed stomach. He replied, “If it makes money, why should they be afraid?”   

I took a good look at the man. He seemed gentle, although his actions didn’t indicate that. “Do you mind if I ask you a really personal question that may have nothing to do with anything?” I asked. His smile broadened and he nodded as he rocked. I felt his acceptance of me.   

“How do you function at work each day when you leave your heart at home?”   

The man continued to rock gently, never changing his expression. I watched while his eyes narrowed. He responded, “What else do you know about me?”   

“It’s confusing for me,” I ventured. “You seem to be a gentle person, yet your actions don’t seem to take people into account. You’re putting task before relationship, but somehow I think you know the difference.”   

He looked at his watch and asked, “Are you free for dinner? Come on, it’s on me.”

Our dinner lasted three hours. He graphically recounted his Vietnam experiences as an officer who had to do bad things to good people. He cried, I cried. His shame had kept him silent, and he had never discussed the experiences with anyone before. He spent his life believing that his goodness could hurt people, so he decided years before not to let his heart get in the way of his job. It was a pain he carried daily. His sharing gave me the permission to talk about one of my own pains in my life that I rarely shared. Together we sat with cold food, warm beers, and tears.   

The next morning he called me into his office. “Could you sit with me while I do something?” he asked. Then he called in the woman who had hired me, and apologized for not supporting her and for being disrespectful to her in front of others. She was shocked and grateful. He then turned to me and asked, “Is there anything else you think I should do?”   

I thought for a moment and replied, “You may want to consider apologizing to the entire team.”   

Without hesitation, he picked up the phone and asked his secretary to call in the team for a quick meeting. There, he apologized to the client in front of the team, apologized to the team for being disrespectful to them, and offered to make whatever changes they needed, so that they would want to come in to work each day. He also wanted to learn my technology and offer it to his entire sales staff.   

That was the first of several meetings between the senior vice-president, my client and the team. People who were looking for new jobs stopped looking. People began to trust that being at work wouldn’t be harmful and might even be fun. The team supported the new collaborative sales approach. The senior vice-president began to use his new skills with other teams. And I got a new friend.  

It is easy to reject the possibilities of reform when things are not going well. We write off an executive, we write off a team, we write off a whole division. But you never know what’s going on under the hood, and what hidden potential there is waiting to be tapped. 

A core principle — a governing ideal — in our performance acceleration and leadership development work at Mentora is that every individual in your organization possesses a luminous Core — a committed, curious, and connected self that can be stirred under the right conditions. It is when this Core is activated that a team and organization can create breakthrough performance. Sharon came in and saw this Core missing in the people she was training, traced it back to the toxic influence their leader was having on their culture, and then found a way to connect this leader to his Core and guide him to activate the Core across his whole organization. What a beautiful testament to the capacity we all possess to reform an individual and transform a culture, all by just getting people to their Core

Executives are increasingly recognizing that the performance breakthroughs they need from their people need to be activated from the inside-out. That’s why Mentora’s most in-demand keynote for executive audiences is on Leading from Your Inner Core. By activating the Core in your people, extraordinary comes in arm’s reach of ordinary. 

Note: This story, submitted by Sharon-Drew Morgen, has been taken from Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work.