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Keeping Your Ax Sharpened

President Abraham Lincoln is famous for many quotes, one of which is:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

What does that mean in a world where most of us are not chopping down trees? Well, for me it reminds me of the importance of keeping my skills sharp. How many times do you find yourself working hard at something, and deep inside you are thinking: “There has to be a better, faster way?” Or you might have noticed that things have changed in your business, and you are wondering why you don’t have the success that you used to.

I can relate this most easily to sales. What makes the best salesperson in the world? It’s not necessarily the most aggressive person, or the most persistent, but it’s likely the person who invests their own time in always improving their skills. It might be technical selling skills, it might be learning a better way to ask questions, it might be learning more about the industry in which you operate, or researching more about your own products, your competitors’ products, or what’s important to your customers.

I have found that many salespeople seem satisfied with their many years of experience as their main qualification or perceived competitive advantage. But, based on my experience, the most successful people in sales are not necessarily the ones who have been at it the longest.

Think about it—that would be like a Human Resources manager in 2022 saying, “I’ve been doing recruiting for 20 years and I know what works.” Anyone who has followed the news in the last year, and all the coverage of “the great resignation,” knows that if there is one area that has changed dramatically, it is in the area of recruiting and retaining talent.

The same applies in every field.

No matter what you do professionally, it would be dangerous to think that what got you there in your career would be the main driver in getting you to where you want to go in the future. All of us need to think of ways to “sharpen our ax.” Does that mean taking professional development courses? Enrolling in continuing education in your field? Going back to school for a certificate in an area of specialization? Or listening to podcasts, reading books, and talking to others who have progressed in their careers (and then asking them questions about what they did differently)?

The next time you are considering how you spend your time (on anything), think about preparation—in everything you do. Before you apply for a job, do research on the company. Before you call a customer, check out their LinkedIn profile or google them for recent articles.

It could even be as simple as taking inventory of what you have before you go shopping and making a list of what you need. Then go shopping.

Sharpening your ax is about doing enough preparation BEFORE you to the work, so that the job takes less time and goes smoothly. I know that sometimes it hard to have the discipline to make time to do the preparation beforehand.

What new skills do you wish you had? Is there a way to acquire those skills easily? What would it mean to you to have those skills?

Remember, keep your ax sharpened.


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