Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves. Leo Tolstoy.

Our neighbours have an Annual Easter Weekend BBQ. It’s not only a great place to reconnect with others in our street, but also the last chance to enjoy the last warm days before winter sets in.

I got talking with Lorraine and, as we stood at the BBQ burning meat, the topic of our conversation shifted to something that was only too familiar.

I came to realise that the things we talked about actually affect us all (as sales managers and coaches) and some ideas became clear regarding the pitfalls of managing people.

Lorraine told me that she was a successful financier, divorced, and the mother of a 13 year old daughter, Britney. (I think you can see what’s coming)

“How about you?” she asked.

“I’ve been married for 40 years and have 3 delightful adult children” I said.

“What’s your secret?” she asked. “I mean about the children, not the marriage. I’m having real trouble with Britney.” (that may also be a sign of the times)

“I don’t know if there are any secrets,” I replied. “Why don’t you tell me more?”

It turned out that the end of her marriage and her business success had allowed her to focus on and give Britney every advantage in developing into an exceptional woman. “I’m damn well sure that she won’t make the same mistakes I did,” she said as she flipped the burger patties.

Despite Lorraine’s best intentions and efforts, Britney was struggling at school. She had a few behavioural problems; had truanted a few times, was often late, in class she did just enough to get by and her results were average.

By and large you could say that she was “travelling just below the teacher’s radar”; not bad enough to warrant disciplinary attention but not good enough to attract admiration from other kids and her teachers.

She reacted in a surly way when anyone either challenged her about this situation or wanted to have a “chat”.

“Hmm. OK.” I said, “What else?”

Lorraine has a nanny, Shirley, who was highly trained and experienced.

Shirley does everything she can do to encourage Britney to succeed, often going out of her way to win her trust and acceptance. Lorraine, though, sees Shirley’s role more as a supervisor than a friend.

About 3 months ago, Lorraine had decided that the situation was so serious that some decisive action was necessary. She needed a plan. A systematic plan. And it was a thing of micromanagement beauty.

She had Shirley take Britney to and from school. They were usually out of the house by 7:30am and home around 4:30pm. Shirley complied a daily list (and kept it updated) of Britney’s misdemeanours and various reports from her teachers of how she behaved; day by day, lesson by lesson.

“I sit down with Britney most nights and calmly, thoroughly, and methodically go through the report explaining what she has done that is wrong or unacceptable.

She has to learn! I expect that we will see a big improvement this year. Britney is clever enough; she just needs to have certain things pointed out and clarified.

Once she sees that we are onto her, she’ll get her act together and we’ll see her true potential.”

As an experienced manager and coach Lorraine’s story made me shiver on that warm autumn day.

I could clearly see all the management and coaching parallels in her story. I heard all the kinds of out-loud thinking that some sales managers have that make, despite their best intentions, it difficult for some of their representatives to succeed.

And I felt all the misgivings, feelings, and values that sales managers have about difficult people.

I’d like you to stop here and re-read the story. And this time notice all the parallels between Britney and her Mum, and between those “average” reps (who you find a little difficult to manage) and you.

Here’s the first thing.

You often find these reps difficult because they make you feel uncomfortable. You then get anxious and angry when you try to “discuss” things with them.

In turn, you make the difficult people feel uncomfortable and they, in turn, also get angry and anxious.

So here’s something you can try over the next few weeks.

If you’re not happy with the performance of some of your reps, then make a decision that “things have to change”.

And here’s the second thing.

The best place to start is with YOU. Not with them.

It just may be that it’s your thinking that determines how you feel about someone and it’s this thinking that, in turn, determines what you do; how you behave towards them.

Looking for negatives in the past means we talk about doubts in the future.

Finding shortcomings in others means we talk about what they need.

If we look for positives in the past we talk about potential in the future.

If we find the good stuff in others, we talk about possibilities.