In 1986, along with four other trainers at Xerox, I was assigned to teach the new basic training program at Xerox called L87. I had no idea why it was given that name. After a dreadfully short period of time trying to learn it, I found myself up in front of a room full of eager new employees with 80 hours of instruction in front of us. I found myself thinking of one of my favorite exchanges from the Wizard of Oz, and I was the Cowardly Lion…
Rob Jolles: “All right, I’ll go in there for Xerox. New curriculum or no new curriculum, students or no students, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
My Fellow Trainers: “What’s that?”
Rob Jolles: “Talk me out of it!”
As a trainer who had only been working for Xerox for a couple of months, I was as green as I could be. I scribbled light pencil notes on carefully prepared flip-charts so I would remember what came next. I wrote reminders and notes on all my overhead frames, (yes, overhead frames!) so I would remember what else to say and do. I was nervous, and I was vulnerable, and my delivery was rough. I didn’t know a lot of the answers to questions, and I forgot things I should have known. Yet, it may have been one of the greatest programs I ever delivered.
Although I was inexperienced and unskilled as a speaker, I made up for it with an unwavering and staggering amount of energy. I didn’t walk around that room; I ran. I didn’t casually greet people as they entered each day; I warmly embraced them. I didn’t manufacture a mild degree of compassion for a room full of new learners; I showered them with a level of empathy I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to reproduce in over two decades of delivery since. And the students felt it.
When the class was over, the students gave me a gift. It was a Mont Blanc pen with my initials in the pocket clip. They had no idea it was my first delivery of this program, and I never revealed this piece of information to the class. They liked the class and appreciated my effort, and they just wanted to say thank you. It was the first, and last, gift I ever received from a group of students in almost 30 years of professional speaking. So what do think: Was I just lucky?
Actually, luck had little to nothing to do with what happened. The fact is, when we are tasked to do things that we’ve never done before, all we have is our sheer desire to succeed. When we turn that desire loose, and trust that it will show us the way, we achieve heights that are far greater than we could ever imagine.
The tough part is trying to reproduce that adrenaline rush. Ironically, I’ve often seen a direct correlation between job intelligence and client perception. Ready for this? The more seasoned and knowledgeable we become, the less effective we become. This is no coincidence. I believe it’s because we lose that adrenaline and that desire that led us to our initial path of success.
In the end, success has far less to do with product knowledge, and far more to do with sheer effort – the kind of effort found in those more vulnerable moments in our careers. Imagine what happens when we successfully combine the two. Now that’s scary.