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Here’s a headline from the New York Post last year. MOST WORKERS WOULD FIRE THEIR BOSS! According to a survey conducted by the website, almost 50% of workers would fire their boss. The poll is based on the responses of 1,118 employees who elected to fill out a questionnaire on the site.

While this might not be the most compelling scientific study ever conducted, it is buttressed by other more authoritative studies. For example, a recent Gallup Poll of more than one million employees found the biggest single reason cited for why people leave a company is a bad boss.

Bad bossism is one of the things I try to avoid by fostering a sense of community and equality within my firm. There are several ways I do this. One, I genuinely try to never hire anyone who isn’t better than me. Two, I hire people who are self-starters and who think like a boss; that is, who think in terms of the whole company and not just their part of it. Three, I practice an open door policy and actively encourage advice and creativity from everyone in the company, including secretaries and  interns. And, whenever possible, I try out these suggestions, giving full credit. Four, I avoid hiring yes men and timid souls who are not comfortable with autonomy and responsibility within the boundaries of ethics and appropriate business process. I sometimes tell clients of my firm Corporate Rain International that we are as close to a communist company as you can get and still be a functioning capitalist entity.

One night several years ago I was watching The Sopranos. In this particular episode Tony Soprano was worried he was being yessed to death by his subordinates. He asks his wife about it. She replies:

“They go around complementing you on your new shoes, tell you you’re not going bald, not getting fat. Do you think they really care? You’re the boss! They’re scared of you. They have to kiss your ass and laugh at your stupid jokes.”

I recently read an interview (January 31, 2010–New York Times) with Mark Pincus, a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Zynga, who speaks of turning each of his employees into mini-CEOs. He recounts, “One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, ‘By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re CEO of.” That’s how it should be.

One of the ways I judge a company when I first walk into a new office is what the receptionist says when I ask him or her about the company. If they can tell you with clarity and verve what the company’s about, it is almost invariably a well-managed, integrated firm. In a sense every employee should ideally be a salesman and PR representative for the corporation by securely embodying and articulating the corporate trope.

We entrepreneurs are passionate, driven, intense people, often with big egos, so it’s not easy. But I feel it’s worth a patient effort to bring a tonality of genuine openness, collegiality, and dialogic creativity to business. Surely, this form of corporate communism is not antithetical even to the ubercapitalist spirit of Ayn Rand’s John Galt.

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Good Business: Leadership. Flow, and the Making of MeaningHere’s a name for you: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Try pronouncing that one! (It’s a Hungarian moniker. Sounds like cheek-sent-me-high-ee.) Dr. Csikzentmihalyi is professor of Psychology at one of my alma maters, Claremont Graduate University in California, where he is professor of Psychology and Management and heads the Quality of Life Research Center. He doesn’t write directly about sales, per se. But he does speak to the issue of meaning in business eloquently and scientifically. And there are certainly corollary implications for sales in his work.

His work centers around the study of happiness, personal efficaciousness, and creativity. To wildly oversimplify Dr. Csikzentmihalyi’s work, he writes about what makes for value and meaning and happiness in business and work. Among other things, he tackles the question of what makes a business life worth living and what makes life worth living.

I have just begun to scratch the surface of his work and I won’t insult Dr. Csikzentmihalyi with further shallow oversimplification from my limited understanding and exposure, but he writes well, accessibly, and with the humility and humor of a true seeker. For example, to give just a hint of his tonality and concerns, in his book “Good Business“, he quotes Norman Augustino, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin:

“I’ve always wanted to be successful. My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it….You have to enjoy what you’re doing. You won’t be very good if you don’t. And secondly, you have to feel you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work.”

I‘m not an intellectual or an academic, like Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. This blog is meant to be practical, intuitive, annectdotal, and non-whitepaperish. It’s not the Harvard Business Review. But one of my recurring themes and passionate beliefs is that there is a great underestimation of the importance of meaning in the salesman’s life. Good salesmen and women are not testosterone driven, Darwinian manipulators, as they so often are portrayed. I believe deeply that lucre and achievement of material well-being are over emphasized in discussions of incentivizing sales folk.

My niche outsourced sales company, Corporate Rain, has mostly succeeded for sixteen years by projecting an institutional concern for ethics and meaning equally with profit. Maybe it’s a lucky accident, but it surely has made for a trope of centered happiness in myself and, I believe, in my sales associates and employees.

If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, I recommend a new book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink.

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Barack ObamaI think President Obama may be making a very simple sales mistake in his self presentation of late.

This came to me as I was listening to him give a speech last week. He was talking about Afghanistan. I found myself getting annoyed and couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t the content, which, on this occasion, I generally agreed with. It was something else.

As always it was a pleasure to hear the sonorous, rhythmic, euphonious incantations of this charismatic man. The phrasing was, as always, elegant and graceful.  But as I listened I realized what was bothering me. It seemed like every word was “I”, “me”, “mine”, “my administration”, or some other self-referential pronoun. This is not good salesmanship.

For me, good salesmanship cannot reflect such self-absorption. Eloquence and presentation can certainly dazzle initially. But a self focus eventually can result in a long term impression of solipsism or even jejune narcissism.

When selling a product or service what works is focusing on “the other”. What works is focusing on the “you”, “your need”, “your anxiety”, “your ROI“, a focus on how you can help your client (or your nation) to achieve.

This process requires a practical humility, a concentration on service, not celebrity. Most of the successful business entrepreneurs I know have this practical quality. This does not mean they are without enormous self-esteem. As CEO of my own company, Corporate Rain, I have always found the most selfish way to be is to be “unselfish”, to focus on the other.

For all his many gifts and attractive qualities, I think President Obama may ultimately prove a poor salesman for his agenda, if he doesn’t get the center of attention off himself.

Merry Christmas to all.

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