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Jeff Schmidt

He Changed My Life


In 1987, I was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as news and program director. Bill Mann came to town, the new general manager. Its always nerve wracking when a new boss comes; it can be good or bad. Bill came from La Crosse, WI, with a voice I referred to as mellifluous tones, a commanding personality, and a track record of greater success than I could have ever imagined. I was lucky; Bill saw something in me that I didnt see in myself. He became my radio father and mentor. Today I still rely on Bills mentorship, friendship, and love.

One morning, Bill took me out to the parking lot after I was finished with my morning show. He pointed left, See the cars over there? Then he pointed right, See the cars over there? Do you notice the difference? 

I said, The cars on the left look old and beat up, the cars to the right shiny and new.

He said, The cars on the left are the on-air staff, the cars on the right are the sales. Which do you like better?

Then he told me, I think youd be good in sales.

 Sales?? I asked with a grimace. Im trying to be the next Larry King or Rush Limbaugh and you want me to go into sales?

I think youd be really good. You give it a try, Ill work with you every day, if you dont like it, at least you tried.

Bill had career-changing power and influence over me (still does), and I have him to thank for the rest of my career. Daily I went to Bills office to tell him of my street fights. He would role-play with me, ask me questions. He helped me to come up with new and better ways of approaching clients, making presentations, and getting results... Had it not been for him, I cant imagine where I would be today.

If youre a veteran seller, sales manager, or general manager, do you realize the power and influence you can have on the people around you? Nothing gave me greater satisfaction as a manager than having a salesperson come to my office and say something like, Remember that thing you taught me yesterday? I used it with my client today and it worked; we got the deal. Even now, being out of the day-to-day operations of the radio station, I have former teammates calling me for advice and help. Nothing is more gratifying than helping people learn and achieve greater success.

Here are just five of the many lessons Ive learned from experience and from great mentors like Bill Mann:

1. Its not about you. Theodore Roosevelt said it best, Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. Your job as a manager is to help THEM reach their goals. Too often we think its the other way around. I remember getting a late-night call from a seller. He was letting me know he wasnt going to be in the next day because he and his wife were having trouble, and he was staying at a hotel. Without hesitation, I grabbed a six-pack of beer and drove to the hotel to be with him.

2. Listen -- really listen. This was a difficult lesson for me. I was too quick to want to put on the Superman cape and save the day for the seller. Which only taught them that I know how to do it, it didnt help them learn how to do it. In "The Accidental Sales Manager," Chris Lytle teaches managers to ask seven questions before solving a sellers problem. The goal, of course, is to have the seller discover the solution and own it.

3. Give them your undivided attention. This was another difficult one for me. With corporate reports, emails, and the busy-ness of the day, it was easy to sit behind my laptop when a seller came into my office asking for help. I would look over the screen at them and embarrassingly sometimes pay only half attention. Thank goodness I had people strong enough to tell me to shut the computer and focus on them.

4. Systems are great but PEOPLE do the work. Resist the temptation to treat everyone the same, or create systems that force everyone to act the same. The goal of systems is to improve performance. Systems cant manage peopleyou do. And each person has different gifts, talents, and struggles.

5. Remember you were there once. Its so easy to think, This is so simple, why arent these people getting it? People learn at different paces, and as the manager, youre in the phase of learning we call unconscious competence. Your sellers have to go through the other three phases to get where you are.

 Unconscious Incompetence -- They dont know what they dont know.
 Conscious Incompetence -- They realize how much they dont know.
 Conscious Competence -- They know what they are doing; they are good at it.
 Unconscious Competence -- They are good, really good, but they just act instinctively and have no idea why they are good.

Heres a bonus lesson: Stay close and involved. Its easy to do, but dont get distracted by the other facets of your job. Seeing your sellers only in sales meetings or your weekly one-on-one is not enough. You and they will be in trouble soon. Daily involvement is critical and can be achieved without micro managing. Look for coaching moments, go on calls with your sellers, share in successes, or encourage them through failures. You can spend time each day looking for ways to encourage and help, or you can spend time each day replacing the people you will lose. Its really that simple.

I invite you to click on this link for a list of the Top 20 Things mentors and managers do. If youre a seller, you can identify those that have helped you. If youre a manager you can do the same, but also identify those you want to help. Its a great reminder of the little things you can do to make a difference.

You have the power and influence to positively change careers. Please use it -- our future depends on it.

Think Big, Make Big Things Happen!

P.S. Use the comments section below to give a cyber shout out to recognize a mentor or manager who has made an impact on your career. They deserve the recognition; lets give it to them.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach him at,, follow him on Twitter @JeffreyASchmidt, or connect via LinkedIn