When I was early in my career with IBM, I had a sales manager and coach that made a significant impact on my business life. He was able to have the rare combination of being respected and liked. He often went to lunch with us sales people and occasionally played golf, but all of us knew he was the boss.
Coaches are terribly important and especially to new business people. Despite the knowledge I thought I had and the “vast” resources I was going to “allow” IBM to tap for their benefit, I really had no idea of even the simplest of business protocols.
I was working in a small southern city that was a long way from New York. We took great advantage of the dress code in effect at IBM in the 70s, stretching what they must have had to wear in New York. Looking back, I may have even stepped over even the loose code in our office.
I had a lime green suit I just loved. I wore it at least once a week. (Remember, it was the 70s) It wasn’t just the light green look, but the material was just right and it fit perfectly. You know the feel when a piece of your wardrobe fits just right. It makes your whole day.
I always wore a white shirt and my tie was very conservative, so I figured I was safe. For the 70s, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was not a bright or loud suit. Even to this day, I would say it was a quiet green.
One day, my boss called me in to his office. I had my favorite suit on. He was smiling brightly and I knew this was not going to be a “bad” visit.
After a bit of chit-chat, he asked me, “You really love that green suit, don’t you?” It was said in a nearly admiring way or at a minimum, in the manner of an upcoming compliment.
“Yes,” I said, expecting a quick follow up of “it looks good on you” or the like.
My coach told me the following, and I will never forget the following words, “You know what you should do? You should build yourself a good sized fire…and burn that suit. I never want to see it again.” My coach continued, “From now on, I expect to see you in grey, grey pinstripe, navy blue or navy blue pinstripe.”
I was crushed, but I was listening and never again wore the suit or a suit that was not in the greys and blues as suggested. It was not the “feel good” coaching we expect today. Could I have been upset and mad? Sure, but that would have been awfully shortsighted as my coach was not only looking out for me, but was also one of the key people that would help me earn a promotion.
That sales manager helped me understand my environment and put myself in the best position possible to make a sale. With his help, I would never give a prospective customer any reason to dislike me or not buy from me.
Coaches are very important to all of us in the business world. It’s our job to be both that coach when appropriate and to be listening when it’s our turn to be coached.
Alan Deichler is the president of CPAmerica International and oversees the association’s growth and development. Prior to being named CPAmerica president, Deichler was most recently chief marketing officer at talent management software provider HRsmart in Richardson, Texas, where he headed worldwide sales and marketing efforts. Deichler has more than 35 years of corporate experience, having held previous management and executive positions with Capital Formation Counselors, Inc., IBM and Ernst & Young, LLP.