I’ve just finished reading the book First Man In: Leading from the Front by Ant Middleton, the Chief Instructor on the Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins, and I’m feeling inspired.
In the book, Middleton talks about some of his life experiences – from joining the army, going to prison, working on TV and, of course, some of his experiences in the SBS (the Special Boat Service, an elite special forces unit of the UK’s Royal Navy, for those not fully down with the military lingo).
What surprised me most was that this book turned out to be primarily about having the right mindset and winning the mental battle with yourself – something we can all relate to and learn from. One particular section in the book on the intensive six-month SAS selection process really grabbed my attention and got me thinking that, as sales leaders, there are some invaluable lessons we can take from this book – I’ve picked three to talk about in this article.
Lesson One: Look for every marginal gain
Forward thinking and playing the long game will reward you in the long run, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
In the book, Middleton describes his ritual during the selection process. Before going to bed he would drink a whole litre of water, knowing that in about three hours he would be awake and bursting for the toilet. He would make the trip to the toilet block in the freezing cold in the middle of the night and then drink another litre of water on the way back.
Maybe the logic of this isn’t immediately obvious, but all becomes clear when Middleton explains that his aim is to always be fully hydrated. The recruits had to go on marches with loaded rucksacks, but the food and water they needed to carry would be extra weight. By keeping himself properly hydrated, Middleton didn’t need to carry so much water; a small but perhaps decisive advantage over the other recruits that could even save his life in a critical situation.
Middleton’s attention to small details and motivation to look for every possible advantage is something we can learn from in the sales world. It even could be something as simple as starting the day with a few new LinkedIn connections. It might not seem like much to begin with, but over a year you could build an extensive and diverse network that could create a long-term sustainable pipeline of business.
Lesson Two: Manage your energy
Learn how to make the most of your time so that you can strike the perfect work-life balance and end your day feeling energised, rather than exhausted.
Middleton explains that he has trained himself to fall asleep almost anywhere, and describes a situation where he decided to take a nap under a long bench in the middle of a moving wagon while the other men stayed awake to chat.
By conserving his energy in this way, Middleton was feeling refreshed and ready to go by the time they reached their destination.
Now I’m not suggesting you should roll under the desk at work and take forty winks whenever you feel like it, but there is an important lesson to learn here. Although sales roles aren’t quite as physically demanding as the SAS selection process, our jobs are more mentally demanding than you might initially realise and we need to maintain high levels of energy to perform at our best.
The Harvard Business Review article, Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time has some great tips and is well worth a read. It stresses the importance of taking regular breaks and getting out of the office at least a couple of times during the day to give your brain a break.
Another great way to keep your energy levels high is to incorporate physical exercise into your daily routine. I’m not talking SAS military-style workouts five days a week but regular exercise and healthy eating have been proven to improve workplace performance by boosting employees’ energy levels in general, enabling them to remain focused all day long.
Lesson Three: Mistakes are inevitable, but don’t let them win
In his book, Middleton talks about how he lost his way while on a march that was part of a test during the selection process. He describes how he couldn’t find his bearings in the thick fog, and the increasing panic he felt as he started to think about how this would cause him to fail the selection and what people would say.
Physically and mentally exhausted, he began to let the fact that he had made a mistake completely take over, and he started to lose confidence in himself, wanting to give up.
When the fog finally lifted, Middleton was able to get his bearings again and was back on track. Things seemed to be getting better, until he made two more simple mistakes that he was penalised for and even twisted his ankle during the final test the day after.
Although he could have given up after each of his setbacks he refused to let his mistakes define him and kept on going, eventually surprising himself by completing the march ahead of many of his fellow trainees.
In the sales world, everyone has lost a big deal, focused on the wrong point in a key meeting or not won over a key decision-maker at least once in their career, but it doesn’t mean we should just give up and stop trying.
Sales isn’t a linear process, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if things don’t always go to plan. Instead, we should accept that the mistake has happened, stop blaming ourselves and calmly make a new plan. Like Middleton, the important thing to remember is that mistakes are inevitable – it’s how we deal with them that really set us apart.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to learn more about how my company, Red Flag Alert (www.redflagalert.com), could help your business to go from strength to strength, don’t hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn, on 0344 412 6699, or at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a friendly, informal chat or a meeting.