There is a saying “there is no point climbing the ladder to success if it is leaning against the wrong wall.” Whoever they are – they are right.

When I was 10 years old my family boarded a ship in England and set sail for a new life in New Zealand. At that time I sang like a lark – over 3 octaves with a beautiful boy soprano voice. But that morning on the docks something else also happened.


With his last 2 pounds my Dad bought me a battered old trumpet that had seen a lot of life. It was over 50 years old then, unpolished and unloved…until it passed from my father’s hands to mine.

It was not just that it was MY trumpet. It was because it was a present from MY DAD. I dotted on his attention and loved him greatly but the presents always came from mum. He was so busy trying to keep us all fed that he got home exhausted and had little time for us. So a present from him directly was something to be treasured.

I had been trying to play the trumpet with the local band before we left England, mainly because my very talented elder brother was in the band. I was not much good. But that trumpet gave me the determination to focus my efforts, forget my singing, and make my father proud.

And so I started doing the wrong things for the right reasons.

As I look back I can see that the signs were all there right from the start;

  • If you spend 7 years on book one of the learners’ guide, your heart is not really in it.
  • When your orchestra mistress asks you to move your fingers on the trumpet keys but not blow, you should get the hint.
  • When you belong to a band and they make you the banner boy so you don’t play, even when they are not even marching, surely I should have worked it out?

But no. With a hide as tough as a rhinoceros, I kept honoring my father and kept on playing. You would be hard pushed to fault my intent, but I was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

You will always achieve more when you follow your natural ability.

Once I had the realisation and could see it, the trumpet taught only one lesson – that I was a singer!

During my sales career, I have held many positions from rep to National Sales Manager to Global Director of Sales. Some have been very successful and others have been a disaster. Working in IT was an example where I simply did not fit. I worked hard and did all the right things (as far as I was allowed to by an over-protective MD) but I simply was not cut out to be in IT sales.

In other areas where success has been linked closely to the depth of the relationship and connection with the people I dealt with, I have been extremely successful in sales and management roles.

‘People’ is where I gain most momentum. Supporting others to achieve and excel is what I do best.

Where do you excel? What gives you the best chance of winning more deals? When you focus on this you will exceed your targets and goals.

Focussing on your strengths gets you further.

After 7 or more years of trying to learn the trumpet, the score was trumpet 1: Bill 0! But I did my practice and went to the school lessons. I tried. I just did not succeed.

In my final high school year, I finally decided I should be part of the school show. I took my voice out of the box I had put it into, dusted it off and went to the audition. Before I knew it I had the lead role. After all those years of not singing and with no practice my natural voice was better than anyone else’s in the school.

I wonder what my voice could have been like had I put the energy and effort into singing instead of the trumpet? How good could it have been and what could I have done with it? How many leads and shows had I missed? Missed opportunities to sing in choirs and to enter competitions?

We can spend a lot of time in our lives worrying about the things we do not do well. Addressing our weaknesses and doing a half job in getting better. Don’t tell me that your own weaknesses do not jump out at you!

But could it be that we should focus on what makes us great and become even better at that natural skill set? Does a cheetah try to fly like an eagle? Does an eagle try to swim like a duck? Is the duck silly enough to try and outrun a cheetah? No, of course not.

A great boxer rarely excels at rugby, great salespeople often do not make the best sales managers and corporate executives often fail at being an entrepreneur.

Obviously, we should have an understanding and the ability to get by, but we gain so much more by becoming as good as we can be in the areas that we have a natural flair for.

Have you spent time trying to fight a weakness? Did you ever become more than below average at most of them? Would your customers accept your proposition because you are so good at the key area that they are looking for? Would they look past the fact your handwriting is not as good as it could be?

You can only be you!

Judy Garland once said, “always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

I wish I had accepted my ability to sing right from the start. It would have been wonderful.

Here is a strange thing. Being Welsh by heritage my father would have taken more joy from my singing voice than he ever would have done from me playing the trumpet. Truly I was doing the wrong thing!

It can be hard to do but the sooner you embrace who you are, your strengths and challenges, all the faults and recognise the greatness within you – the sooner you can get on with being amazing!

By focussing on what makes you unique and how to gain the most from your natural strengths the sooner you will start to succeed with less effort and more speed. People buy from strong personalities and also from quieter conscientious people. You simply have to find the right clients and the right market.

And you need to be the best you that you can be.

Have you ever looked at someone and wished you could be like them? The way they seem to make it seem easy? How they breeze through to a successful finish, achieving the outcome they wanted?

And you have tried to copy them? Did it ever work out the way it should or did you find that you simply could not get the ideas to work for you the way it did for them? Heads up – you very rarely ever get to be like them.

What fake ideas are you pursuing right now? What mold are you trying to fit into? STOP!

It is hard to see our own truth so we need to look outside ourselves for the answers;

  • Ask your customers, why they do business with you and go deep for answers.
  • Spend time with trusted workmates and friends and uncover what makes you the friend they value.
  • Explore your clients and find the common thread that shows where you are at your best.

In this way, you will uncover your own strengths. Play to them and win more often.

Finding yourself and being the best you can be is not only the strongest place to play from, but it is also the most honest and allows you to act from your own integrity. In this way, you will have more success and enjoy the journey more than you ever thought you would.

If you would like help building the courage to sell, we would love to connect with you, please

Bill James

Senior Partner

Attain NZ