Gold Medals, German Shepherds, and the Truth About Leadership

“People will run really, really fast for two reasons,” sales trainer Thomas Freese is fond of saying, “to win a gold medal and to get away from a German Shepherd.”

His point is this: a buyer has more than one reason to buy, a positive one that results in gaining pleasure of some kind–the gold medal–and a negative one that results in avoiding pain of some kind–the German Shepherd. He’s right when in comes to sales, but he’s wrong when it comes to leadership.

Yes, people will do what you want them to do both out of love and out of fear, but only one will produce sustained, world-class results. People give their best effort and do their most creative work when they love what they’re doing. We’ll just do what it takes to get away from a German Shepherd, and simply avoid that side alley the next time, but we’ll train and sacrifice and strive year after year to win a gold medal.

What’s Your Gold Medal?

What this means as a leader, then, is you must have a gold medal for people to aspire to. You must have a cause that people will run after. You must think through how your business makes the world a better place, so you capture, not just their physical presence at work, but their heart and soul as well. You must give people something to love. Not in place of business metrics and financial measurements, but alongside them, animating them and giving them life.

As a leader, this love begins with you, for water cannot rise higher than its source. “To become the best leader you can be,” best-selling authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner advise in The Truth About Leadership, “you have to fall in love with the work you are doing and the reason you are doing it. You have to fall in love with leading and the purpose you are serving.”

When Do You Use a German Shepherd?

Unfortunately, there are times when only a German Shepherd will do. We live in a real, broken world where sometimes you have to outline the pain of negative consequences and the outcomes of poor choices. But like our canine friend, this will only produce a temporary, reactive result. Your clear intention in doing this should be to help others fall in love again. You can’t compete today with half-hearted, uncommitted people, for world records are only set by those who give themselves passionately to the cause.

So when you are selling, take Thomas Freese’s advice and remind your buyer of both the positive benefits to be gained from using your products and service and the negative consequences to be avoided. But when you’re leading people, paint such a compelling picture of the gold medal that lies before them that they give themselves wholeheartedly to the cause.