A lot of people think that coaching and leading is all about doing. It’ about giving a great speech or a well-deserved pat on the back. Coaching is all about telling people what to do and leading is all about showing people what to do, right? I don’t think so. I used to think so. I used to think that great coaches were those that gave those incredible speeches that got us all fired up. Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday was a GREAT coach. Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks in Miracle was a great coach. They were incredible leaders. And I still think that those individuals were great coaches and great leaders but it doesn’t really have much to do with those speeches. Those speeches were the lighting of the match. But you have to have fuel. Where do you get the fuel?

If I can pinpoint the one skill that makes a good coach and a good leader, it’s not the ability to motivate or drive or encourage or anything like that. It’s something much, much simpler that most of us are not very good at. It’s listening. Any Given Sunday is one of my favorite football movies. Oliver Stone does a wonderful job depicting the highs and lows of the sport and the life. And the “inches” speech, as it is known, is this moment where everything comes together in this unstoppable onslaught of emotion and dedication and perfection. But that scene is not possible if it weren’t for scene after scene of listening. Listening to players, to coaches, to peers.

One of the things I love about meeting with a client, whether it’s an initial consult or an ongoing relationship is something I’ve dubbed “THAT”. “THAT” is the thing that they say that triggers wild synapses in my brain. “THAT” is the thing where I stop everything and interrupt them and say, “THAT…THAT is what we’re talking about.” The other day I was meeting a potential client for the first time, professionally anyways, and we were reviewing her work history, what she liked and what she didn’t like when suddenly she said something. She said, “I’d rather sell myself than a product.” “THAT”.

There are two takeaways from this. The first is that when we listen, TRULY listen, we will hear some incredible things. Listening is not the same as being quiet. Just because you shut up doesn’t mean you’re listening. Listening is the act of focusing on another person. It is the act of devoting yourself to their thoughts and their ideas. It’s not an opportunity to compare or contrast your story with theirs. No one wants to hear that you, “how exactly what they mean.” They want to hear that you care about what they’re saying and there is a difference.

Listening to a person, not just nodding or waiting, is the best way to learn what is inside another person’s head. When we listen with half of our mind, with half of our attention, we get half of the story. What people DON’T say or HOW they say something is as important as WHAT they say. Listen to people. If you find yourself thinking, while they’re speaking, “hey that reminds me of this time when…”, shut it down. The two are NOT the same. Listen.

The second takeaway was in the actual message. “I’d rather sell myself than a product.” It struck me. Even if you ARE selling a product, which most of us are, we need to go about it in a different way than we often do. Get people to buy into YOU. They’ll buy everything you’re selling if you can just get them to buy you. Stop pitching. Listen. And when you’ve really listened and you know what the client is looking for, then tell them who YOU are and what YOU do and how YOU can help THEM. Look at every interaction as the beginning of a relationship rather than a necessary step on the way to a transaction.

Live these ideas. People who live these ideas don’t auto DM a thank you. They don’t email you a blanket offer. They don’t ask you for something without offering you something. People who live these ideas are successful. People who live these ideas listen. People who live these ideas HEAR. They share a piece of themselves in everything they do. I’ll buy ANYTHING from these people. I’ll follow these people ANYWHERE. Be one of these people and you will be successful.