Developing Your Team Bruce Lee Style

Okay, for some of you the title seems to be giving you license to karate chop your non-performers (or maybe even your high-maintenance superstars!) and “whip them into shape”…literally!  As you will soon see, quite the contrary.

I have been listening to an Audible book titled,  The Warrior Within by John Little.  I have always been a big Bruce Lee fan and the book made me nostalgic so I went back to watch a few of his movies.  My favorite is Enter the Dragon (1973), and it is full of the pearls of wisdom that made Bruce such a captivating figure in his lifetime and an icon today.  There are two quotes I want to focus on as it relates to developing your team Bruce Lee style.  The first quote comes when one of the combatants from New Zealand asked Bruce’s character, “What’s your fighting style?

To which Bruce calmly answered,

“The art of fighting, without fighting.”

Seems a strange place to begin in a discussion about the development of your team, but realize that someone who is under-performing may already be under a great deal of stress and pressure.  When they know they are about to be called into the sales leader’s office to discuss performance, they are already “armed and dangerous” with all of the classic excuses – the leads, the clients, the competition, the products, etc.

The income shortfalls they are experiencing as a result of poor performance are their leading, lagging and nagging indicators.  Likely, they are already facing similar questions about their performance at home from their spouse and family.  They may view the constant review of their minute-by-minute, and day-by-day activities by sales leaders as less the mechanism of coaching, and more like piling on.

They are ready for a fight.

My approach.  Don’t give them one.  I am not asking sales leaders to be “soft” on performance.  Through this approach, you have the power to influence behavior – to hire and fire.  You don’t have to relinquish that authority through passivity, but you also don’t have to fan the flames of dissent by being combative.  There is no doubt a sales leader will win every argument, but there are two things you can do to provide a better approach to coaching under-performers on your team:

  1. Set the stage.  When you first select and hire your team, they should be made fully aware of the expectations (sales goals) and the ramifications (performance management) of not reaching sales targets. They know they were hired to perform to an expectation, and if they miss that mark, then they should anticipate that the next step of performance management is coming.  The challenge I see in some companies is that sales people miss targets and no action is taken.  They see it as an acceptance of their performance and cry foul when you come to them months later – instead of according to policy and procedure.  Set the stage of expectations and follow through with the defined and written process.
  2. Measure, Monitor and Manage.  Pursuant to #1, there must be a defined process and system to measure, monitor and manage performance.  This system should actually allow challenges to be detected early and keep them from escalating into performance issues.  If the process of measuring is only done at month-end and is based purely on sales outcomes, then the sales person and sales leader have already begun digging a hole.  Typically, it’s a hole that only a “pulling out all the stops” last quarter can possibly salvage.  Measuring should be a constant activity and trends should be monitored.  For example, a sales person had 15 presentations this week, but only 2 sales and no future pipeline possibilities.  Is the challenge in the prospecting, demonstration, or closing?  Will the sales person be more receptive and less antagonistic if you call them in now to help them get 7 sales the next week, or waiting for a full month when they had 60 presentations with only 8 sales – putting them on performance management?

The second quote comes as Bruce is conducting a mentoring session with a young student.  As the student is struggling to master a move, he finally demonstrates a level of proficiency.  Bruce smiles and asks him, “How did it feel?” to which the student responds, “Let me think”.

Bruce chastises him and delivers the classic line,

Don’t think!  Feel!

I am a student of several classic sales training schools of thought, but they all involve some form of questioning model.  Whether Socratic or SPIN selling, they require that you uncover needs through open-ended questions that take the sale along a logical path.  There is a classic sales model that uses the “feel, felt and found” approach as a foundation for handling objections uncovered through the questioning model.  If a client says they don’t want to buy, the sales person might say,

“I understand how you feel.  Many of my clients felt the same way.  What I have found is that they felt comfortable buying from me once they had all the right information.”

Why not use a similar approach with your team?  Examine the following questions to determine which one will uncover the real issues and how under-performers on your team might respond to them:

  • Think – What do you think is keeping you from meeting your sales quota?


  • Feel – What do you feel is your greatest challenge in meeting your objectives?


  • Think – What do you think you need to do to improve your performance?


  • Feel – What do you feel I can do to help your need to improve and reach your objectives?


Semantics aside, there is actually a major difference in how these questions sound and which portion of the brain they trigger – thus impacting the answer you receive.

“Thinking” questions drill down into the pragmatic, logical portion of the brain.  The sales rep will begin to explain all of the “science of selling” activities they have done – the calls, the presentations, the marketing efforts. They will provide predictable, guarded answers that keep them from exposing critical areas of need and vulnerability.

“Feeling” questions go into the emotional areas.  The areas where doubt, fear and uncertainty reside.  This is uncharted territory but where the real answers reside.  For most under-performers, there is some form of call reluctance, fear of rejection or uncertainly about asking for the sale.  Answers along these lines will help you get to the heart of the matter.

Craft your questions in a way that doesn’t lead the witness to the answer you believe is their challenge.  Given the opportunity to tell you how they feel, you may get more than you expected and be able to set them on course for record performance!

Use the “Art of fighting, without fighting” and “Don’t think! Feel!”, as a foundation of developing your team Bruce Lee style.  A high performance, high morale sales culture will likely be the result.

Until next week, continued success.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply