You can’t coach desire

18 August 2014
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MANILA, Philippines – Iam at heart, nothing more than a coach. A teacher. A mentor. All I ever wanted to be was a coach.

In business I can teach many things: how to deliver a great presentation; how to write a concise business recommendation; how to build a brand; how to develop advertising that builds the business; how to manage complex projects… the list goes on and on.

In sports, I can teach an athlete how to eat properly; how to build muscle; how to high jump, or how to run a marathon. Again, it is a pretty long list!

All of these skills are important in their context. And all are coachable. But the irony is, the most important attribute of all is not coachable.

Desire.

I can’t coach desire. This has to come from within.

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Either your want it, really want it, or you don’t.

If you have desire, that burning desire to be better, to improve, to take feedback and coaching, to never, ever give up, well, you are already halfway to a very successful endeavor. If you don’t have it, well, no matter what kinds of “breaks” you have in life, how much wealth and opportunity you have had, you will lose out, to someone with more desire.

Desire has to come from within.

I was a 21-year-old fitness instructor majoring in Psychology and Physiology from the University of Cincinnati when I tried to join prestigious Procter and Gamble in the ranks of brand management.  Who did I think I was, trying to get into P&G from a state school diploma and taking on all the MBAs from Harvard, Wharton, and other elite B-schools?

I passed the written test. I interviewed with a panel and thought I did well. A week later the letter came in the mail (this was 1984, long before the Internet!).

“Dear Mr. Lafferty:

“We must say we so enjoyed meeting you, blah, blah, blah. We loved your rich experience and stories. Blah, blah, blah.

“However, after careful consideration of all factors, we don’t believe there is a good match between your skills and P&G. We wish you a great life…”

Most people take the rejection, throw it in the garbage, and go find another place to work.

I was too dumb and too stubborn to know I should have accepted the rejection. Anything worth having in life takes hard work. So I wrote a letter to the head of P&G’s HR worldwide and demanded another round of interviews. I told him, “Interviewing is an art, not a science,” and they made a mistake. And lo and behold, they brought me back for a second round of interviews!

The second time around, at the end of the process, I got an offer to start in marketing in the batch of 1985. There were 99 of us in total on the US business. I was one of the very few without a prestigious MBA in hand. I was certainly the only one with a state school diploma, my hair parted down the middle and pimples still all over my face!

Desire got me in the door. And desire kept me there.

Over the years, one by one I saw my batchmates leave — some by choice, most not. It’s a competitive world in FMCG and not everyone can make it. I saw so many who, frankly, had so much more talent than I did. They had the blessings of a rich array of skills and a world-class education. But when it came to desire, I wanted it more than they did. I worked harder. I persevered when they gave up. I chased bigger ideas, believing I could do anything I set my mind to.  And after 20 years, suddenly I found myself the last man standing in the most competitive arena in business.

Desire.

If you have it, keep it. Drive it. Feed it. You are going to have a wonderful ride!

If you don’t have it, find it. Or be prepared for a lifetime of frustration and losing out to those less talented than you are.

Every young applicant who has been rejected over the years, but has had the courage and desire to write to me to ask for a second chance, has gotten the second interview. And today, I can point to no less than 20 managers in P&G, Coke or BAT where I have worked who, like me, were rejected the first time around yet had the desire to fight back, to keep trying … and they made it!

I can point to my former secretaries, Ada Harasymowicz and Susana Mendes, young 21-year-olds from Poland and Cape Verde, who came in at the lowest ranks, outworked everyone else with pure desire, and today they both are expatriate marketing leaders in P&G leading billion-dollar businesses.

It’s all about desire.

It’s one of life’s great ironies. Desire is the most important attribute of all. But you can’t coach desire. It has to come from within.

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