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Optimism and Confidence

This one’s a book recommendation and a commentary.

Book Recommendation: How Champions Think by Bob Rotella.

Some of the most important qualities in a great sales/major gifts person include:

  • Empathy
  • Optimism
  • Confidence
  • Engagement (Ability to ENGAGE)

It’s difficult for me to rank these. They’re all important.

How Champions Think gives you and me a way of approaching optimism and confidence as dynamic traits we can control. We DECIDE to be optimistic and CHOOSE to believe in ourselves.

  • On Optimism.

    “People aren’t born optimistic or pessimistic. Optimism is an attitude that people can choose to have.”

    • “Optimism doesn’t guarantee anything in sports [and life]. It just improves your chances.”
    • “Optimism is often an act of faith, a belief in something that cannot be proven.”
    • Rotella says that top athletes either consciously or unconsciously find ways to become and stay optimistic.
  • On Self-Confidence.

    “People tend to become what they think about themselves.” – William James

    “There is enormous wisdom in that sentence. And there’s enormous hope. James was wise enough to see that we are each the biggest influence on our own destiny. More importantly, he understood that we each have the power to construct our own self-image and that the self-image we construct will very likely determine what we become in life.”

The valuable thing about this book is that it gives us a peek into the minds of Lebron James, Ben Hogan and other champions. You see the importance of confidence but more importantly, you see how these are decisions that add up to construct one’s being.

Having coached and trained over 1000 sales people and leaders I believe in everything Rotella is saying. Optimism and confidence are found in different ways but fundamentally they are choices.

Implications for For Impact Leaders:

  • Hire for optimism and confidence… And always reinforce these traits. Believing in your team is one of the most important things you can do as a leader.
  • Remove (sales) team members that cannot be mentored toward optimism and confidence. We must guard against anything that takes these dynamic traits in the wrong direction.
  • Renew YOUR optimism and confidence. It’s a decision! But this one falls under ‘simple, not easy’. Work on finding ways to become and stay optimistic. Set the tone and the story for the team.

Video Nugget: Use Altitude for Engagement, Organizational Development and Communication

Previous video in this sequence: Introduction to Altitude Framework.

In this video we cover three ways to leverage the Altitude Framework.

  • For engagement. People will engage at the altitude of your choosing.
  • For organizational development. Start with WHY and answer the question, “To what end?”
  • For communication. Use the metaphor to effectively communicate with your team ‘at altitude’.

Summer of Health

In the spring of 2014, The Suddes Group team members encountered several health setbacks, ranging from physical injuries to the emotional / mental toll of losing family members. As a team, we decided to commit the summer to health and healing. On June 21, the Summer Solstice we started our SUMMER OF HEALTH.

This really simple concept defined our TEAM STORY for the summer.

We read books… took cooking classes… held each other accountable to fitness goals... rehabbed old injuries… There was an open and ongoing conversation about managing energy, finding flow, and the process of mental renewal.

The Summer of Health had many expected benefits, but also a few that we didn’t even see coming:

  • We went wayyyy beyond diet and fitness. The team conversation shaped around vitality, balance and meaning!!!
  • Team members involved families. This seems obvious in hindsight, but everyone reported having family members who also lost weight, gained energy, and transformed their health. As one team member shared with me, “We took the time to learn how to cook and prepare healthy food as a family, and this is a value that will be passed on to our kids!” (THAT’S IMPACT!)
  • We had an impact on broader social circles and extended families. Our team members became incidental health leaders and coaches. Let me tell you, there is nothing more fulfilling than helping a family member find health!
  • I think it had a permanent impression on our culture. Since last summer we’ve observed an awareness of energy and work-life integration.

The team journey was so powerful that we’re making it again. Hopefully a few of you will make a commitment to a SUMMER OF HEALTH too.

Obviously, this is something you can do yourself, but I would encourage you to do this with your team or with some friends.

Write to me at Tell me about your INDIVIDUAL or TEAM commitment to a SUMMER OF HEALTH. I will include you on notes we share with our team about focus, renewal and vitality. I’ll also send out some of the books below to a few randomly selected people.

Here are a few of the books we shared last summer:


Meaning Before Details

I’m preparing for our flagship experience, The For Impact Boot Camp. Part of the ritual includes re-reading some clippings and materials — including a chapter on the subject of ATTENTION from Brain Rules. John Medina goes into the neuroscience of how we pay attention, engage and learn.

Here’s a powerful nugget from that reading:

The brain processes meaning before details. Providing the gist, the core concept, first [is] like giving a thirsty person a tall glass of water. And the brain likes hierarchy. Starting with general concepts naturally leads to explaining information in a hierarchical fashion. You have to do the general idea first. And then you will see [a] 40% increase in understanding.”

This nugget (and the science explained in the book) helps to explain why the Altitude Framework is such a powerful communication framework. The Altitude Framework along with the Engagement Tool provide a visual orientation and hierarchy… moving from meaning to details.

This is also a great reminder that one of the most powerful questions we can ask someone is their WHY…. It creates full engagement around the THEIR meaning. If you can then attach every detail of the conversation to their WHY then you will have full attention.

In an educational setting (like Boot Camp) this becomes an important teaching principle. Give ONE concept and use a lot of details to support ONE idea. We then support with a story because stories are rich with meaning.


The Power of Context

I’m not sure we give enough credit or thought to the power of context… the situation, atmosphere or circumstances that shape events and communication.

Context gives (EVERYTHING) its form and meaning.

“The room is EIGHTY PERCENT of the context for the comedy!” – Jerry Seinfeld.


Think about CONTEXT (in these contexts!)

  • CONTEXT-setting! The job of the LEADER.

    “The CEO must set the context within which every employee operates. The context gives meaning to specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision making, and provides motivation.” – Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing about Hard Things

    Set the CONTEXT!


    McKinsey identified the number one challenge with hiring and leadership development to be OVERLOOKING CONTEXT. “A brilliant leader in one situation does not necessarily perform well in another.” (McKinsey Quarterly. Jan 2014)

  • CONTEXT for the ASK!

    (This one needs a book, not a bullet point!)

    Think about how we PREDISPOSE to set and control the CONTEXT for the conversation. What do we need to send ahead of time? The experience! Who needs to be there! Where will we have the visit?


What Does ‘An Ask’ Look Like? A Checklist.

In the For Impact world A REAL ASK satisfies this checklist:

  • We were WITH a prospect – physically.

    See Just Visit. There are exceptions to this but 19 times out of 20 the ask is done in person so that there is engagement and dialogue.

  • We asked the prospect for specific help with a specific project, program or level of support.

    In doing so the dollar figure was clear. Example: “John, we need your help, would it be possible for you to underwrite this project for $20,000?”

    It wasn’t open-ended, we didn’t ask, “Could you give whatever you can give?”

    Also, in being specific, the funding rationale wasn’t for ‘unrestricted’ or ‘operations’… those aren’t specific (see: Have a Funding Rationale)

  • The ask was a dialogue – a back and forth with questions and listening — so that we could ensure that we were maximizing the relationship at this given moment.

    Read: The Ask as a Dialogue to help with this concept.

  • We will expect a YES or a NO – and will follow-up accordingly.

    Thinking about how to get to a YES or NO ensures you have covered appropriate mechanics and you can continue within a sales process. Otherwise, there is a risk of pending into oblivion or unclear follow-up.

Without the definition provided by this checklist we often find:

  • A visit is scored as an ask.
  • There is no real ask – but rather a suggestion that it would be great to have the prospect’s help.
  • Some psychological shift whereby the salesperson only asks AFTER the prospect says he or she would like to make a gift. That’s not an ask. The relationship certainly wasn’t maximized and it’s an incredibly low return-on-energy methodology.
  • The salesperson raises money without asking. This is similar to point above. To be clear, just showing up DOES yield funding – this is our point behind JUST VISIT!

    But, in terms of measurement this is harder to spot (and therefore coach around), and usually shows up because a sales person will report the following:

    • 25 visits
    • 20 asks
    • 3 commits
    • 0 declines

    If you follow this ask checklist, you SHOULD get a ‘no’ from time-to-time.

  • There was a request for help, but there was no funding rationale or dialogue. We see this with a lot of organizations that ARE raising money. They’re out visiting, they’re asking the prospect to help but they’re not maximizing the relationship. (Not the worst problem in the world – but usually leaving tons of money on the table).

Some reminders:

  • We’re pushing for everyone to be more assertive. That doesn’t mean you always have to ask for funding on the first visit. There are certainly many times where it’s a discovery or predisposition visit (but never 4-5 ‘cultivation’ visits before we ask).
  • Kerry was with a client last week and they visited with a high capacity prospect for a first time discovery visit. There was no ask, however Kerry did ask for permission to make the ask. She closed the visit by saying to the prospect, “Today we wanted to share the vision and see if we could get you on board with our story. As we move along would it be okay to talk to you about supporting that vision?”

Funding Frameworks – Illustrated

In this video we illustrate a few funding frameworks inside of our sample engagement tool.

Reminder: You don’t need to use EVERY framework in your engagement tool. Simplicity is the goal!

Here are some links to support this video nugget.


Intern Reading List

As summer approaches we are brushing up the directed readings list for our For Impact Summer Internship. This is the version of the list / books we will share this year.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

The point of this book is in the title. The book is an invitation to THINK your way through life.

The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightengale

The first two books on this list are timeless classics. The Strangest Secret is… You become what you think about. This is true for individuals. I believe it’s equally true for teams and organizations.

Give and Take by Adam Grant

I don’t know how this book didn’t up with even MORE acclaim! Published in 2013 it was my most distributed book of that year. Adam Grant draws on research and real-world stories to illustrate and backstop the notion that helping others is actually the key to success. For anyone in our sector, especially, this is ‘wind in the sails’.

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin

Remember ‘Searching for Bobby Fisher’? The author of this book is Josh Waitzkin, the former child phenom chess champion and subject of the film. This book is about building your craft, learning (period) and the life-as-a-journey pathway toward fulfillment, excellence and mastery.

The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success by Marcus Buckingham

Focus on strengths (not weaknesses). In life, business, marriage!!! and more. If you can pick up this ONE tip it’s a huuuuggeeee lever for success.

The Power of Story by Jim Loehr

Everything is is a story. Nothing more. Nothing less. We have the ability to control that story. This is a book about the narrative machine that is the mind and the energy stories consume or create.

Eat. Move. Sleep. by Tom Rath

We’ve read dozens (maybe hundreds) of books, journal articles and other publications about health and wellness. Tom Rath does a great job hitting the recurrent (and really very simple) themes. At The Suddes Group we think of health & vitality as the first wealth. Anything we can do to promote that with our interns, our team, our clients or the broader FI community is really important!


How to use an Engagement Tool

In this video I share three quick tips around how to use an Engagement Tool.
(Download the sample Engagement Tool PDF.)

I suspect we will film many more videos around this topic. I could offer 50 examples / tips.

In this video we cover three things:

  • The engagement tool is not the presentation.

    It’s a tool. It’s not meant to be used (necessarily) in a linear and ‘unabridged’ monologue / delivery.

    In order to illustrate how little we ACTUALLY need to support a conversation we use a placemat drill in some of our trainings. Try walking through your story and an ask using a blank piece of paper or a placemat. Draw on it as you communicate. When you finish, you will be surprised to see that you made your complete presentation using only 5-6 words, a terrible picture and a lot of scribbles.

  • No prose paragraphs!

    Only prompts or framing devices are placed on the tool, as well as figures or words that CREATE engagement.

  • Use the whitespace, listen and write to create engagement.

    The best message in the world begins in the prospect’s head. Use THEIR words (when you can). This isn’t a sales device, it’s a relationship and communication device!

    Note: stay away from dark back grounds or gloss on the paper. Go with white space so you can write!

  • See also: What is an Engagement Tool?


A Framework that Works for Every Visit…. ever.

Having made 2,000+ visits I can share that only three went EXACTLY as scripted.

However, in all of those visits I cannot think of ONE time in which the Presentation Framework was not totally valid.


On every single visit these three things are really important.

Authenticity. Authenticity makes you and immediate sales expert.

I’ve found — through our workshops and trainings — that I need to be very dramatic about this. Here, I might even say BRUTALLY authentic.

One time I made a visit on behalf of a monastery. There were 33 monks praying for the visit. That made me nervous. I started the visit off by saying, “I do this all the time but I have to tell you, I’m nervous. Right now there are 33 monks praying for our conversation!”

Or, if you’ve been on the job for two weeks get out an make visits. You can be totally authentic, “I’ve only been on the job for two weeks, you probably know more about this organization than I do!”

Discovery. By discovery I mean the process of asking questions and… LISTENING. Most people don’t do the first part and when they do, they forget about the second part!

2,000+ visits and I can’t recall one time when asking questions and listening was not important. WOW!

Engagement. Engagement is a dynamic with a relationship which holds attention, heightens interest and motivates action. (My definition.)

We’re in the process of posting some Daily Nugget videos to illustrate ENGAGEMENT.


  • Visual
  • Simple
  • (Again) Asking questions / Listening

We tend to put a lot of preparation on what we want to SAY but almost no preparation into how we will create engagement and what discovery questions we will ask.