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The Theory of Benign Indifference

The Theory of Benign Indifference
November 21, 2018

How bringing-up with children prepared me to lead great sales teams (or how I invented my own theory on parenting).

Do you remember Ron Pickering? He was coach to the British Athletics team at the 1964 Olympics in Toyko. But throughout his career, Pickering helped countless athletes take home medals at the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. He was committed to helping young athletes and the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund was founded after his death in 1991. Today, the fund continues to support hundreds of young athletes, every year. 

“Ron is best remembered as the voice of athletics on BBC commentaries and iconic programmes such as Superstars. He was awarded the OBE by the Queen in 1986 for services to sport.”

You can read more about Pickering and the foundation's work, here.


Successful parenting = Love + 2

I once read a story told by Ron Pickering, and it’s stuck with me ever since. 

Whilst at a wedding in Spain, Pickering sat beside an elderly lady at the meal. Once the pleasantries were out of the way, the pair talked in depth about their lives.

During their conversation, the old lady said something which struck such a cord with Pickering that he included it in his book,

“There are only two things you can give your children apart from love. They are the roots to grow - and the wings to fly.”

And these principles apply just as much to our new salespeople, as our children. 

Giving our salespeople the roots to grow means by giving them the tools and skills they need to do a great job. It's our responsibility, as coaches, to help them realise what they need to do to succeed, not only for their organisation but for themselves. This means removing what obstacles we can from their path and giving them the knowledge, skills, and processes they need to make confident sales.

And the wings to fly? Perhaps my experience bringing up our son (who’s now in his 30s and has a successful career) will explain this. 

Learning to fall

When my son was about 2 years old, he came running full tilt towards me, down the back garden path. At this point, he was still learning to walk – never mind run. And despite my shouts, the inevitable happened. He went head first onto on the path, sprawling on the paving slabs, skinning his knobbly knees and his little hands. 

Afterwards, I picked him up and dusted him off (not before checking that the path was ok. I don’t know why we parents do this when our kids fall? Maybe we think it will take our child’s attention away from the pain. Note to new parents – it doesn’t!).

Later that evening, I sat pondering the day’s escapades. And it got me thinking: my son was going to hurt himself throughout his life. As much as it worried me (not least because I’d just landscaped the garden), it would be inevitable as he grew and learned. I wasn’t going to be able to protect him from everything.

And so, from that moment, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t try to protect him too much. Especially if I wanted him to grow up with the confidence to push himself and to learn new things. Even if it meant failing spectacularly every now and then. 

If I could see disaster looming for him, I could step in. But I knew I’d have to let him take those little falls.

Professor McCurdy’s Theory of Benign Indifference

Just for fun, I coined my new philosophy ‘Professor McCurdy’s Theory of Benign Indifference’. And I still apply it to every salesperson I work with. 

All the best coaches allow their students to make mistakes. When I was a sales manager, I used to go along with my salespeople on their calls. I tried to never take over the call - yes, even if it meant losing the business. Of course, sometimes I couldn’t stop myself trying to save the sale!

Give your salespeople the roots to grow and the wings to fly. If you do, there’s a bloody good chance that they’ll turn out ok.

An essential caveat about The Theory of Benign Indifference

Many years after my son’s fall, I was in my car listening to the radio when an academic came on. He started talking about a new theory he’d come up with. He called it ‘The Theory of Benign Indifference’. I was flabbergasted! What could this mean? Perhaps he was a mind-reader. Or maybe I could have been an academic?

Want your sales team to win a gold? Get in touch to book your 2-part sales training workshop today. 

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