Quora Saturdays: Advice on sales and leadership

July 9, 2016 by Joshua
in Leadership, Quora, Tips

I’ve been answering questions on the social media site Quora for about a month. My responses are getting more views and upvotes, so I thought I’d put some here, since the posts there are like posts here for readers who don’t feel like going there. I’m thinking about making a standard Saturday practice of collecting my responses here from there for the week.

Since I have a month to catch up on, today’s post will be long. To summarize, here are the questions I answered:

  1. What options do I have if a sales manager cannot manage but can sell?
  2. Who is more powerful than elected leaders?
  3. What stops people taking time to develop themselves as a person and as a leader?
  4. Can you tell me some rich in protein foods that are cheap?
  5. Is it common for highly educated people to feel like they have no marketable skills?
  6. What’s a life changing program (such as Tony Robbins 30 day program) or a book or audible book that you credit your success to?
  7. What are some life changing books one needs to read in their 30s?

Scroll down for the answers.

Question: What options do I have if a sales manager cannot manage but can sell? We repeatedly emphasized the need to oversee the entire sales process rather than individual selling. Does not know what is going on with the sales team and gets defensive when we point out areas of improvement but can deliver solid sales as a regular rep. Should we demote, let go, other options?

My answer:

First, I suggest changing your question. You have more than two options. I suggest asking something more like: what options do I have if a sales manager is incapable of managing but can sell. The more options you can come up with, the greater chance of finding something better.

Second, I suggest involving them in the process. Your question doesn’t hint at their motivations. Do they want to manage? If not, no problem. Do they want to improve? Then maybe they’d appreciate training.

Most people appreciate being involved in decisions that affect them. If you share the problems you see, you may find they want to improve and are open to other solutions.

Not involving them in the process — that is, acting unilaterally — rarely creates effective teamwork. You have to think of the rest of the sales team.

For that matter, you’ll probably do well to involve the rest of the team since the decision affects them.

Involving them in the process doesn’t mean you have to do what they say or let them decide. Usually just asking their opinions and suggestions is enough to make them feel involved. Then afterward, if your plan differs from their suggestion, to let them know you heard them and value their opinion. The decision may not have gone their way this time but may the next.

Third, I suggest thinking more dynamically. Are they incapable of managing forever? Can they learn and grow? You once didn’t know how to manage. Maybe they couldn’t sell at one time. If they learned to sell, maybe they can learn to manage too.

Question: Who is more powerful than the elected leaders? I’m supposed to answer this as an ethics-class homework but I can’t. I’d be really thankful if someone could share their opinion on this and please exclude any religious beliefs.

My answer:

Some of the greatest leaders of history were not elected. I’ll start with a short list that may get you thinking:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr
  • Gandhi
  • Eisenhower (as military leader before being elected)
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Napoleon
  • Dalai Lama
  • Jesus
  • Robert Moses
  • Nelson Rockefeller
  • Martin Luther
  • Thomas Paine
  • Bill Gates
  • Albert Einstein
  • Nelson Mandela (before being elected)
  • Confucius

There are a few themes there—military, religion, social causes, freedom fighters, business.

Also, if you didn’t just mean in democracies, kings, queens, dukes, and other aristocracy aren’t elected. Nor are dictators.

Many artists and athletes are also very influential: the Beatles, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and so on have changed culture tremendously.

Question: What stops people taking time to develop themselves as a person and as a leader?

My answer:

Questions about time are nearly always about priorities. You have time for anything anyone else does if you prioritize it high enough.

If people aren’t taking time to develop themselves, they’ve chosen to do other things, meaning they prioritized the other things more.

You might ask, what are people doing instead of developing themselves. If they’re doing something you also value more, you might agree with their choice. If not, you might disagree.

Question: Can you tell me some rich in protein foods that are cheap?

Like how many grams of protein per how many grams of food

My response:

Someone created a spreadsheet with such data on reddit — I calculated the Calorie per dollar and protein per dollar of various foods in my area, thought I would share. (posted on /r/frugal as well) • /r/Fitness so you could start there.

There’s also this page: 10 Cheap Sources of Protein for the Budget Conscious.

Question: Is it common for highly educated people to feel like they have no marketable skills?

My response:

Sadly, yes. When I was getting my PhD in physics, I felt like my only options were to continue as an academic, to go into an industry related to my field, or wall street. I didn’t like any of those options.

Last year I spoke to a group of science graduate students and asked them if they felt similarly. Nearly everyone did. I pointed out how many people leave college to start businesses, like Zuckerberg, Gates, Dell, etc. and asked if they noticed how those people seem to go in many directions.

I asked, “Isn’t it odd that you feel like you have fewer options even though you have more education?”

The room was silent with realization.

Traditional academia prepares people for academic lives, not practical work. Nearly all academic teachers are academics, without practical experience.

The good news is that you can learn practical skills quickly and easily. I did a workshop with the graduate students on how to create meaningful connections, which is a marketable skill you can learn and improve with practice, among many others.

Question: What’s a life changing program (such as Tony Robbins 30 day program) or a book or audible book that you credit your success to?

My response:

It’s hard for me not to answer my own, though for me the life-changing experience came in making it. Still, the responses from people who do my courses are powerful, gratifying, and inspiring, both online and in-person.

You didn’t ask specific questions, I’ll just give a link to it here for people who want to know more. Since my stuff isn’t as known as Tony Robbins’, I can answer questions about it too. There are also reviews at that link.

Question: What are some life changing books one needs to read in their 30s?

Also pleases share your experience of changes it made in your life after reading those books if you can.

My response:

If you don’t mind my copying my Resources and Inspirations page from my blog, here are ones that influenced me in ways I consider very positive. Not all are ones you need to read, but you won’t regret reading any.

I bolded the five or ten I liked most.


  • Marshall Goldsmith – Great executive coach, author, and mentor. Great resources at his website, his Harvard Business Review column, and his feedforward practice, which is about the best advice I’ve ever come across for improving your behavior.
  • The Art of What Works: How Success Really Happens, by Bill Duggan – One of the best books on how to get things done by a great professor at Columbia Business School. I was fortunate enough to take a couple classes from him before they became among the school’s most popular. One of the more popular courses is Napoleon’s Glance, also the title of another of Bill’s books, but I found The Art of What Works resonated with me more.
  • Getting to Yes – the book on negotiation. It also was a major influence in getting me to see business not necessarily as competitive and to see others’ perspectives as valid as my own. Let’s see if I can still list its four principles from memory: 1) rely on objective criteria, 2) look for mutual gain, 3) separate the people from the problem, and 4) focus on interests, not positions. Not bad.
  • Peter Drucker – He wrote the book, many times over, on management and leadership. You could almost say he created the fields. The first book of his I read was The Effective Executive, which I recommend.
  • The Fifth Discipline – This management book introduced me to mental models, system thinking, and personal mastery. I’m not sure how influential it was for others, but it was for me for those introductions. I skimmed this book recently and it didn’t quite stand the test of time for me.
  • Competition Demystified, by Bruce Greenwald – the book on strategy by the professor of value investing at the school on value investing. The New York Times called him “a guru to Wall Street gurus.” The book focuses on strategy for large companies, but easily translates to entrepreneurship. I wouldn’t start or invest in a company without reading this book.
  • Hitendra Wadhwa – I took a course with him in business school. Just after I left he began a course called Personal Leadership and Success. I haven’t taken the course, but it looks close to mine.


  • Steven Pinker – His book, How The Mind Works, covers a lot of what evolutionary psychology means. I also ran into him and his wife once on Greenwich Avenue, a couple blocks from home. Delightful couple. They referred to a Ted video I had seen but couldn’t recall until just after we said goodbye, at which point I felt silly.
  • Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene was my first foray into evolutionary psychology and was one of the first books on nature that opened me to science that wasn’t physics being comparably interesting as physics. I saw him speak at a book signing once.
  • The Red Queen, by Matt Ridley – my first exposure to tracing how the effects of evolutionary psychology propagate throughout human culture. A major influence in seeing beyond social programming and recognizing how much institutions influence society for their own benefits, often to the individual’s detriment, despite everyone in them thinking they are doing what’s best.
  • Robert Wright – His book, The Moral Animal, had some great insights into how we evolved as humans, especially our emotions.
  • David Buss – wrote the textbook on evolutionary psychology, the foundation for a scientific understanding of self-awareness.
  • Charles Darwin – I put his name here to motivate myself to read the Origin of Species, the Descent of Man, and the Expression of Emotions first hand. I’ve only read a few passages so far. Obviously his contributions to our understanding of nature towers above most others’. He’s up there with some of the top physicists.
  • Donella Meadows – Her book, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, changed my thinking as much as nearly any other book. Viewing the world from a systems perspective makes many things make sense and helps you be more calm. She co-authored Limits to Growth: The 30-year Update, which expresses my perspective on the intersection of ecology, economy, and environment better than any other I’ve seen. It just gets it. If you’ve read the book and would like to discuss it, please contact me.
  • Martin Seligman – among other huge contributions to psychology he co-founded the sub-field of Positive Psychology, wrote many foundational works in it, and continues to teach at Penn. I’ve worked with a few graduates of his program.
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – the other co-founder of Positive Psychology and founder of the study of flow, among other great contributions to psychology.
  • Richard Feynman – One of the great physicists of the twentieth century, though not as well known as, say, Einstein or Heisenberg. His views on nature, beauty, honesty, and why we learn are among the most meaningful to me. Decades after I left actively researching physics, I’m as interested in his perspective as ever. His videos are amazing. Watch them all!
  • Sex at Dawn – a recent book speculating that human emotions and behaviors related to sexuality may not be as genetically based as many suspected, but may result more from our social environments that we created since the advent of agriculture. It’s science, so who knows how observation and experiment will affect it, but the same goes for incumbent theories.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond – changed my perspective on cultures and how they developed and founded my perspective on finding natural explanations for some parts of human behavior. A big motivator for me creating my Model.
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — A celebrated, best-selling science writer, Carson saw and researched the effects of DDT and related pesticides a few companies and the government at all levels was drenching the country with. Rather than simply accepting what the companies and government told her, she found and publicized the evidence to the public in Silent Spring. She, as much as anyone else, inspired the environmental movement leading to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other achievements President Carter awarded her a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. I posted about her and the book here.


  • Jacob Goldenberg – I took a course called Systematic Creativity in Business from him, which was revelatory and inspiring. His book, Creativity in Product Innovation, covered the subject matter of the course, albeit technically. I haven’t read his other book, Cracking the Ad Code, yet. When I consult to creative types — artists, musicians, designers — I draw heavily from Jacob’s book, and they report it to be very effective.
  • Robert Weisberg – His book, Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius, was as revelatory as Jacob’s course. Creativity is less romantic and mythical but more accessible than mainstream beliefs suggest.
  • Genrich Altshuller – His theory of inventive problem solving, TRIZ, implements the ideas of Goldenberg and Weisberg. He preceded them. I know Jacob’s work derived from his. I don’t know if Weisberg’s did.

Personal development

  • Tao Te Ching – Here is my favorite translation, free for download or purchase. I don’t know how accurate it is, but I am more concerned with its accessibility and utility in improving my life, which it’s great about. It endures as one of the oldest books for a reason. Written like no other book, it doesn’t just say its message. It says things that after you read them you think and act differently, in a way that improves your life.
  • I studied acting at The William Esper Studio and recommend it to anyone. I learned more about myself, emotions, and expression in one summer than probably any other single source. It was incredibly challenging, but fun and social. The Meisner technique taught there starts off simple and never seems to have any big jumps. Then the next I knew, I could use the technique to cry on stage, something I’d never expected I’d be able to do, let alone through such simple instruction and practice.
  • Srikumar Rao – I took his course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, at Columbia Business School. A lot (most?) of my perspective on personal leadership comes from him. I come from a more scientific perspective. I find his more mystical. His books, Are You Ready To Succeed and Happiness at Work, are inspirational and at the root of understanding value, meaning, purpose, passion, etc and what to do about it. Every time I buy a copy I give it away soon after because of the value it brings others.
  • Anthony Robbins – I don’t know his stuff that much. Only that while creating my seminar a friend told me I should listen to his stuff and lent me a few Anthony Robbins CDs. The content was what I was writing, so I was intrigued. Later I read a book of his and found it right on, even though I wouldn’t have expected his message to resonate beforehand.
  • Neil Strauss – Whatever your views on so-called pick-up artists, his empowering book, The Game, shows how someone can transform from zero to hero through dedication, practice, and learning in one of the most important yet emotionally challenging parts of life. Plus we toured North Korea together.
  • Chuang Tze – His book followed the Tao Te Ching and is as valuable. Here’s a free online version.
  • David Allen – his book, Getting Things Done, inspires a lot of people to take control of their lives with specific and actionable behavior and beliefs. What made it great for me was meeting him and hearing his explanation for the book: “I’m a freedom junkie.”
  • S. N. Goenka – his practice of vipassana meditation is amazing. My first experience of meditation was a ten-day retreat with no reading, writing, talking, etc. Very useful. While I don’t recommend it because it’s hard and I don’t want the responsibility for someone going on my recommendation and not liking it, nearly anyone would benefit from it.
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn – His book, Full Catastrophe Living, was one of my earliest sources of increasing what he calls mindfulness. It’s calming and helps you focus. Here is a great video of him.


I have changed my environments, beliefs, and behavior significantly from learning how the following people lived. Others may be as inspirational, but these are the ones I’ve acted on. I’ll add more as I think of them. Some become such a part of who you are you forget about them. (I’ll leave finding how they weave together as an exercise to the reader)

Videos (I know there are a bunch of great videos in the following series. I’ll have to post links to them as I re-watch them)

Hmm… more than one woman belongs up there, although Donella Meadows influences me daily more than almost anyone. I’ve posted on meaningful role models — for example here, here, and of course here — but I think more belong here. I’ll think of them.

EDIT: I finally read Silent Spring and added that book and its author, Rachel Carson.

Jane Jacobs, her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and her activism that helped save Greenwich Village and more from Robert Moses and the car-over-people destruction he brought to the region belong here too. I love the book’s opening line: “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” No holds barred, and she won.

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