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When You’re Sitting On Top Of A Mountain But It’s a Rut

Matt is a $1.5 million producer. He has a new Porsche 911, a Maserati, and a 5,000-square-foot house overlooking a valley. He has two beautiful kids, a gorgeous wife and no debt. He has it made — except for the happiness part.

He is frustrated about paperwork, staff, compliance regulations and parent company edicts. But many top producers are frustrated. The difference is that Matt isn’t happy. But he likes his career and his freedom. He loves his income. Why can’t he just count his blessings?

More than one-third of the U.S. population has mental health problems. Some are more severe than others. In graduate school, a professor jokingly told me the difference between neurotics and psychotics. The joke is that neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics move into them and psychologists collect the rent.

I have always thought about the differences more concretely. If you ask a psychotic what two plus two equals, they will say 36 or 98 or 112, with no sense of reality. If you ask a neurotic the same question, they will always say four. But then they will follow up with “Why does it always have to be four? It makes me nuts it can’t be five once in a while.”

The drive that causes someone to become super successful can also cause the psychological disease that causes dissatisfaction. Let’s look at a U.S. postal worker who works an 8-to-5 day with no pressure. They know their job, they show up for work and they get paid. They rarely get fired, they sometimes get promoted, but they have no motivation to work harder and make more money.

By contrast, the super sales producer is unemployed until his next sale, and is always under stress. When I was 26 and a new stockbroker, my manager encouraged me to buy a new BMW 535. His attitude was that a producer with financial stress was a harder worker than a financially comfortable one.  But the stress super producers feel is self-inflicted. Why?

The super producer has a hole in their ego constantly in need of filling. Super producers are super competitive and they struggle to reach the next level. Managers love these producers but also find them challenging. These super producers complain constantly, sometimes think things are unfair, and are generally headaches for those who work with or supervise them.


Why Aren’t They Happy?

John had a good year. He grew his business to $2 million in income and is really irritated it wasn’t higher. His goal was to increase income by 25 percent. But it rose only 10 percent, and he isn’t happy about it.

The average annual household income in the U.S. is $54,000. Only 1 percent of Americans earns more than $500,000 annually and has a net worth of more than $1 million. But that doesn’t matter to maladaptive, irrational super producers. Why aren’t they happy? It could be a non-approving father or a critical mother. It could be a poverty-stricken upbringing. But these folks are constantly trying to fill the void, struggling to be good enough.

I renewed my driver’s license a while ago. The last step was a photo. I was third in line. The photographer told each person before me to put their feet in the yellow outline, look at the camera, wait for the flash and walk to the checkout counter.

When it was my turn, I handed him my paperwork and said, “Won’t you be glad when you can rotate out of this job to another DMV station?” He said, “I have been here doing the same job taking driver’s license photos for 25 years. Then he said, “Put your feet in the outline, look at the camera …” This is not a super sales producer. Super sales producers become bored easily and need to be challenged constantly. Most important, they need to feel valued.

In my coaching practice, we guarantee clients will increase their business by 80 percent in eight weeks. Because we commit our clients to a business plan first, it’s hard not to get them on track to an 80 percent increase in eight weeks. Our clients only need someone to hold them accountable.

But the super sales producers are different. They need more praise than the rest. It was my mistaken belief that the biggest producers were emotional giants psychologically. I thought they were more emotionally insulated than lesser producers. The opposite is true. They need more stroking, more praise and more injections of self-worth than the others do.

It is a counterintuitive concept for most colleagues and managers. These super producers sometimes diminish praise by saying things such as, “It’s not enough,” or “Let’s see what happens next month.” Managers or colleagues think since super producers don’t accept strokes well, they don’t want praise. But these super producers need praise even more than less-gifted people do.


Catch Them In The Act

One solution is to catch super producers in the act of being successful. When they complain about paperwork, tell them how well they are managing their time. When they whine about a slow internet connection, tell them you will work on it, but at their lofty level it’s only a speed bump. Remind them of how well they have done before, or of a hurdle they overcame earlier. You can say, “Hey, Jim, remember the case you sold that produced $50,000 last month? Boy, you worked hard on that. You are absolutely gifted. You are the best I have ever seen.”

It is hard to be gratuitous with a super producer. They are looking for any reason to build their self-esteem. Since they find it hard to self-praise, the praise they crave needs to come from you.

Obviously, you want that praise to be sincere. But a rule of thumb is to praise them three times a day and rationalize that as a way of training them to be even more successful than they already are. Remember, you are trying to fill an emotional hole. Don’t worry about sterilizing your super producer. They will only produce more and be happier in the process.

I have three daughters. I have always told each she is my favorite. It’s now a family joke. But there’s a reason to my madness. One of my heroes was Congressman Jack Kemp. He was an NCAA All-Pro quarterback at Occidental College, won the NCAA championship and later played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. He went on to be a U.S. congressman, and even was Sen. Robert Dole’s running mate against Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential campaign.

Just before the NCAA championship, Kemp’s college coach called him into his office and said, “Jack, you are a natural born leader. You are the most gifted and hardworking player I have ever coached. I need you to lead this team to a national championship. Motivate the rest of the players to give all they can in the game and we will walk away with the championship. But don’t tell any of the players we had this conversation.” Kemp said, “OK, Coach. Thanks for believing in me. I will bring back the trophy.” They went on to win the championship, and Kemp went on to a great career.

At a reunion decades later, one player walked up to Kemp and said, “Coach liked me best.” Kemp laughed at such a random statement and asked why he thought that. The lineman said, “Coach called me into his office before the national championship and told me I was the most gifted and hardworking player he had ever coached. He told me to lead the team and motivate the other players.” The coach told every player the same thing. The Occidental College football coach won a national championship by motivating the maladaptive irrational super producers to even greater things.



Kerry Johnson, MBA, Ph.D., is a best-selling author and frequent speaker at financial planning and insurance conferences around the world. He developed Peak Performance Coaching, a one-on-one coaching program. To see if you are a candidate for this fast-track system, click on and take a free evaluation. [email protected].

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