Reading can lead you on a wonderful path. I recently finished Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which the author suggests is based on an idea he discovered while reading a history of the Civil War.
That insight was that four different leaders were charged with managing the Union’s efforts, all with the same power, and all with the same resources. Yet only General Grant was able to command the Army in way that made it an extension of his will. And Grant was the General that led it to its ultimate victory.
This insight sparked my interest in reading about Grant, and sent me on a path to the book Grant, by Jean Edward Smith. It is a wonderful biography of a very unlikely leader, and a more unlikely hero. The stories are outstanding, and the leadership lessons are extraordinary (especially since his leadership isn’t the cult of personality or charisma that sometimes masquerades as true leadership).
It’s a bit long, but this story is worth your time, and more worthy of some reflection and some changed beliefs and behaviors.
Lincoln On Grant’s Abilities
Lincoln’s Secretary, Stoddard, was questioning Lincoln about Grant’s military leadership as Grant took charge of the entire Union Army, an enormous and complicated task. Lincoln replied to Stoddard:
“Grant is the first general I have had. He’s a general.” When Stoddard paused, Lincoln replied: “I’ll tell you what I mean. You know how it’s been with all the rest. As soon as I put a man in command of the army he’d come to me with a plan of campaign and about as much say, ‘Now, I don’t believe I can do it, but if you say so I’ll try on it,’ and so put the responsibility of failure on me. They all want me to be the general. It isn’t so with Grant. He hasn’t told me what his plans are. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I’m glad to find a man who can go ahead without me.”
Lincoln told Stoddard that all the previous commanders would “pick out some one thing they were short of and that they knew I couldn’t give them and then tell me that they couldn’t win unless they had it; and it was generally cavalry.
“When Grant took hold I was waiting to see what his pet impossibility would be, and I reckoned it would be cavalry, for we hadn’t horses enough to mount what men we had. There were fifteen thousand or thereabouts up near Harper’s Ferry, and no horses to put them on. Well, the other day, just as I expected, Grant sent to me about those very men. But what he wanted to know was whether he should disband them or turn ‘em into infantry.
“He doesn’t ask me to do impossibilities for him, and he is the first general I’ve had that didn’t.
Your Pet Impossibilities
It can sometimes seem like a competitor has certain advantages that if you could match with the same programs, services, offerings, features, or benefits that you would more successful winning. But the “me too” approach isn’t differentiation, and wishing you had something you don’t have isn’t going to improve your sales results.
Winning means leveraging all that you do have, and bringing all your resources to bear on your sales opportunity. It means being resourceful and finding a way to make what you have work to your advantage. It’s what my friend, Hank Wasiak, would call Asset-based Thinking.
You gain nothing by absolving yourself from the responsibility for winning by blaming your sales manager, the vice president of sales, the President, the CEO, or anyone else for your results based on what you don’t have.
You don’t have the lowest price. It is impossible for your manager to give it to you. This is a pet impossibility.
You don’t have the money, the budget, or the resources that your competitors have. It is impossible for your manager to give them to you. Another pet impossibility.
You don’t have the bottomless expense account. Same: pet impossibility.
You don’t have the acronym-laden program offerings in the slick, four-color brochures. Same.
The list could run on forever.
There is always going to be someone who has something that you don’t have and that you are going to be forced to compete against. Sometimes it is going to be the shiny, new trend, and sometimes it is going to be something more fundamental and that is just damn hard to compete against.
Winning With What You Can Control
Focusing on your pet impossibility isn’t going to help you produce better sales results.
Your resourcefulness is going to help you win. Your strong belief in your company and your real competitive advantages are going to help you win. Your consultative sales approach and your adherence to the iron laws of sales are what is going to allow you to compete and win against competitors who aren’t willing to exercise the same discipline and focus.
What is your pet impossibility? Got it? Okay, you can’t have it. Now what are you going to do to win your dream client opportunity?
What are the real advantages that you possess and that you can leverage to win your dream client opportunity?
How do you differentiate yourself and your offering? What part of your differentiation builds a competitive advantage for you, regardless of your not having your pet impossibility?
What do you have to do, who do you have to be, to drop the excuse, to get over your pet impossibility, and to move forward with what you do have and win?
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