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The best advice I ever received came from a former boss

With college and a little bit of grad school behind me, I struck out in 1958 to “seek my fortune,” as they say. I had a degree in physics but I didn’t want to spend my days in a lab, so I figured being a sales engineer would be a happy medium. The best salesmen I knew were back-slapping, lunch-buying, joke-telling guys who had all the answers and could talk nonstop. I got a job in sales but a year and a half later no fortune had come my way. But before I moved on, one of my bosses gave me my first lesson:

1)  To be good at sales, talk a little and listen a lot.
I was convinced that I was the world’s worst salesman, so I went back to technology and taught math and physics at DeVry University in Chicago. I worked hard to develop my listening skills and it helped a lot, mainly because people took it as a sign of my interest in them. I couldn’t help it; I really was interested.

2)  When you listen, you learn.
I loved teaching, but it was hard to make enough money to feed my growing family, so I joined Cahners Publishing Co. as an editor at EDN Magazine. It was one of my favorite jobs, talking to engineers and helping them write exciting stories about their inventions.
One day my boss told me I should try sales again. I agreed, and because of the attention he paid to me and other salesmen in the office,
I became pretty good at it.

3)    Practice your public speaking.
I have become a deep believer in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s suggestion, “Do what you fear the most and the death of fear is certain!”
I took Dale Carnegie courses and other public speaking seminars and while I may never have become a spellbinder, my comfort in front of an audience increased and helped a lot throughout my career.

4.) Take time for self-improvement.
I managed to become the youngest publisher at Cahners, and strived to rise even higher, but it didn’t happen. It took me a while, but I finally figured out why – I had a reputation as a big drinker, and it cut me off from a future I think I had a good chance for. I wanted to quit totally for both business and family reasons, but it was extraordinarily challenging. It took five years to cut out the habit entirely and when I did, the world started coming my way. I felt better, did a better job, cared more about people and spent less money. It was probably the most important decision of my life. So,  in the spirit of paying
it forward:

5)   Help the people around you be successful!
Some 50 years ago, Bob James, a great friend and management trainer, gave me this morsel of wisdom: “Help each person see themselves in light of a strength of which they are unaware or uncertain, related to the person they dream of becoming.”

We can only do this if we know people well and we actively assist them in achieving their goals. If we deliver, they become believers in us. Regardless of fortunes, you will enjoy the richness of life and the people in it.

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Pat Wiesner

Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of WiesnerMedia, publisher of ColoradoBiz. He still leads sales training for the company. E-mail him at pwiesner@cobizmag.com.

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