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Give them what they need, not want

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Most business leaders would rather pay a celebrity $1,000 a minute for a “motivational” talk than bring in somebody who’d actually provide hands-on, tactical training, says Steve Salerno, author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.

Why? Because if you ask your staff whether they’d rather listen to Tommy Lasorda or a trainer, Salerno says, they’ll pick Lasorda. He’s more fun.

The problem is, you should give your people what they need, not what they want. But pep talks and rallies have become an accepted part of the landscape, even though there’s no proof that they work.

Here’s Salerno’s prescription for teaching competence, not confidence:
  1. Teach skills. It’s easy for Barry Bonds to speak confidently when he has the hand/eye coordination and power to hit 98-mph fastballs. And Salerno recalls when O.J. Simpson was the highest-paid motivational speaker. Solution: real training for real skills.

  2. Deal. Much of the advice gurus dole out is vague and relies on fake promises of self-confidence and affirmations. Do your people really want to be deluded?

    “If you had a rash on your arm that wouldn’t go away, but you were convinced you were getting better,” Salerno asks, “is that OK?”

  3. Use real role models. Salerno asks why an organization would hire a speaker like Beck Weathers, who got stuck on Mount Everest and lost his nose and hand. What are your people supposed to learn from him?

  4. Balance confidence with realism. Americans want to believe that a positive attitude will take us anywhere. Salerno calls for more serious-mindedness. Instead of asserting that confidence will win the day, teach your people to prepare well, gauge the competition, do their best and, if they fail, take their lumps and do better next time.
—Adapted from “The sun may not come out tomorrow, says Steve Salerno,” Vadim Liberman, Across the Board.

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