Death of a Salesman and Xylophonist


Back in the mid 1950’s my father was a professional salesman. He taught me that Sales was all about being competitive, caring and competent. These attributes helped him be very prosperous over the years.

As a good Christian, my father believed that helping others was not only a noble goal, but a responsibility of everyone. With his guidance, I began helping others as a Cub Scout. Doing good deeds quickly turned competitive. The Cub Scout’s award bronze, silver and gold arrows for various activities that support their mission and receiving arrows was like winning the Olympics for me. Winning these arrows became THE competition for me. At first, my goal was to win more than Tommy Teachout and then it shifted to literally fill my shirt with the little arrows. Dad taught me to believe that competition was good and healthy. Just as long as winning didn’t come at the expense of another.

Dad and me in Yellowstone!

As a good father, my dad believed helping others was one of the best attributes a salesman could have. Like my father, I have been a salesman all my life. At a very young age Dad taught me that selling wasn’t about persuading and convincing, but about truly caring for your customer. He always said that if you offer the customer something they need, they will buy it. He also believed that true salesmanship helps the customer understand that they need what you are selling. Dad truly believed that, bottom-line, if they REALLY don’t need what you are selling, care enough to walk away. (But keep them in the Rolodex)

As a leader, my dad believed helping others grow and improve was a critical component of good leadership. Not unlike the young sales people that worked for my father, when we were young, we kids were expected to continuously improve in everything we did. Be it on the athletic field, in the church choir, or our given professions. We always needed to improve.

As a young man, my first commission sales job was selling shoes. I recall one time early on, when I complained about needing to take so long to locate shoes in the confused and cramped “Backroom” that it was hurting my sales. Dad simply told me not to worry about trying to change the system, but to focus on learning the system and deal with it. I did and in no time I was earning more than the full-time employees in only 20 hours per week.

My dad loved music.

He played the Xylophone in church and sang in the choir nearly every Sunday until just a short time ago. His competitiveness came out in everything he did. He wanted to be the best father, husband, salesman and Xylophonist. And, as I recall…he was. Of course, now that I think about it, I never actually knew any other Xylophonists.

Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t great just because he was competitive, but because he truly cared. He cared deeply about his children, his clients and the congregation.

Finally, Dad was a role model when it came to having and maintaining a high level of competence in everything we did. He not only expected us to continuously improve, but he did it as well. I recall one Saturday evening when I wanted to go out, but dad couldn’t take me because he was practicing the Xylophone for the next day’s service. Now keep in mind, I had heard him flawlessly rehearse that same song what seemed like hundreds of times. He knew that his perfect practice would result in a perfect performance. On the other hand, I just wanted him to take me someplace where I could continuously improve my relationship with my friends (girlfriend) I’m sure. That Sunday morning, as I watched the congregation enjoying my father’s music, I realized just how important competence was in maintaining highly effective levels of performance. Not just in music, but in everything we do.

My father passed away at 5:26PM today 5-26-09.

As I reflect on his life from my perspective and what he meant to me, I am grateful to have learned how to nurture a healthy level of competitiveness, a deep sense of caring and an appreciation for competence in every aspect of my life. Dad has often expressed how proud he was of his children and grandchildren. He was also very proud when I left Corporate America to embark in a business of helping others improve their performance and their lives. In fact, he left a voice mail message for me just a couple of weeks ago telling me how proud he was of me and all the kids. I saved that message, but I can’t listen to it right now. Oh, but I will!

In closing, one element I often use in my presentations is to challenge the audience members to think of only one word that they would want on their gravestone. One word that describes who they are, who they were or what they did. Just a few of weeks ago, when Dad was still alert, I asked him what his one word would be. My competitive, competent and caring father said his word is…


Thanks for always believing in me Dad!

Love, your competitive, competent and caring Son…TJ

Go for the Easy Pieces!

There I was, sitting on the patio watching the little sparrow tugging on the three foot piece of ornamental grass from our “Asian Garden.” He (or she) was committed to getting that specific piece of long dead grass to build his nest. He had a plan to build the best nest in the trees. And he wasn’t afraid of hard work, in that he tugged and tugged on this grass for nearly twenty minutes.

All the while, several other sparrows made many trips to retrieve 3-5″ pieces of grass and take them to their nest. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually got several feet of nest building materials while my stubborn little buddy tugged on the well connected winterized blade of grass. Much to my amazement, the feathered little tough guy actually severed the blade from the plant. And yet again, another major task was at hand (or wing). How to get the blade to the nest construction site?

The meager tiny guy looked like an exhausted runner crossing the finish line of a marathon. As he tried to fly the grass would wrap around his body and disable his ability to fly. In what looked like a series of the Wright Brothers first flights, he flew only a foot or two, landed (or crashed), flew another foot or two, crashed and finally got to the tree. Flying up into the tree was another act of determination from this sturdy little creature.

At last, he finally got the 3′ long blade of ornamental grass to the site of his nest. Only to find that it was too inflexible to function as good nest building material. There, nearly twenty feet up the pine was a cluster of unused 2-4′ ornamental grass reeds.

Have you ever felt as though you’re tugging and tugging on your “Big Blade of Grass” hoping for the big payoff? Maybe your plan should allow you to pick up the small easy pieces and build a comfortable nest as opposed to aiming for the “Big Prize” and never getting it.

Make sure you have a realistic plan to achieve your hopes and dreams. Be Your Own Chief Performance Officer!