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Nothing stresses me out more than co-worker gifts around birthdays and the holidays.  I get nervous giving them (I’m never sure exactly who to give them to), and I get nervous receiving them (never know what to say).  And knowing what to give is a whole additional problem.

That’s why I was involved in creating http://www.inspirationalcreatures.com.  These are stuffed creatures designed to be given as gifts.  As of this writing we have two creatures available (although on the website you can see the next two that will be released as well).

Sales Goblin:  I’ve written elsewhere here about my love of sales.  Well this guy gets it.  He’s got the headset going, a coffee cup with “Coffee is for closers” written on it.  And there’s a little tag thing with some funny copy.  If you are looking for a gift for a salesperson in your office (or…you’re brother-in-law that you never know what to buy for) check these guys out.

And for the boss, that’s the Chief Executive Orc.  He’s not really an Orc (I know…I know  He looks more like a troll to me.  But Chief Executive Troll is not nearly as good.)  Anyway, from the red power tie to the 9 iron, he’s a funny boss or manager figure.  And, like the Sales Goblin, he’s got some funny copy on a tag.

You can check these guys out at inspirationalcreatures.com.  The toys are all linked over to Amazon to buy them.

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Twelfth Night is an amazing, funny, and mysterious play.  As with most of Shakespeare’s comedies it plays with gender roles, has older men helping nubile youngsters, and has a cynical yet somehow life-embracing theme of grabbing someone while you can and enjoying young love.  As the clown Feste says, “Youth’s a stuff will not endure”   One could reasonably add the implicit message “So grab some young and good-looking person and make love while you can.”  but for the purposes of this blog, it also has some of Shakespeare’s insightful views on how to get past no and get to yes. 

At the center of Twelfth Night is Viola, the shipwrecked young girl who dresses as a man to serve the Duke Orsino and court the Countess Olivia.  Viola is naive in many ways, but she also exhibits some amazing abilities as a saleswoman.  Despite being unaware of much of the ways of the world, she has a seemingly innate understanding of what it takes to move someone.  She stands in contrast to the Duke Orsino who does not understand that love is a game and that you need to get yourself on the field and get your hands dirty.  Orsino sends Viola (whom he believes to be a man named Cesario) to court Olivia os his behalf.  Thus Orsino complies with the traditional vision of courtly love — sending proxies to read ornate love poems on his behalf.   He fails because…well…this is a terrible way to get someone’s interest in you.  It removes the risk of personal involvement (which is why it is probably so popular a technique among 7th graders), but that degree of remove makes it impossible to get what you want.   

Viola on the other hand is there in person.  She shows up.  When she initially follows the traditions of courtly love in the form of Orsino’s script she is unsuccessful.  Why?  Scripts are terrible selling tools.  Everyone can recognize a script.  It lacks personalization and encourages a disconnect between the speaker and the message.  Great leaders minimize the necessity of scripts. 

Viola has to learn this from Olivia’s reaction and pouts about not getting to use her sales script, “Alas, I took great pains to study it, and tis poetical.”  Sounds like a lot marketing language right?  Poetic…somebody makes you memorize it…and generally useless. 

But when she goes off script, she is a natural.  Granted she has a more attractive product to sell Olivia — herself…or himself… I can’t really get into the gender bending here.  But that is also a good point for those who would sell, get a good product.  Even the best salesperson in the world couldn’t sell the Duke Orsino to Olivia. 

Olivia won’t respond to the script.  She doesn’t like the courtly garbage.  But when Viola speaks candidly “for what is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve,” it resonates with Olivia.  Viola, in the moment, responds intuitively with the argument that Olivia needs to hear.   Olivia does not need to hear flowery language, she needs to hear that life is for living and that it is time to get off the sidelines.   Viola is so good at conveying this that she convinces a Countess to fall in love with a lowly cross-dressing messenger.  Which means…I would definitely hire Viola to sell my products. 

In the end Viola is succesful because she is a natural salesperson who learns as she goes.  And we can extrapolate a few lessons:

1.  Pick a good product.  Great salespeople deserve great products

2.  Be wary of scripts.  They are generally ineffective.

3.  Adapt.  Good salespeople listen to their intuitions.

What you should know about me:   I am a passionate fan of the works of William Shakespeare.  I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Middlebury College in 1997 with a joint degree in English and Theater.  At Middlebury I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.  A 2000 Masters of Fine Arts graduate of the Yale School of Drama, I have performed as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing and as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.  I served as the Production Dramaturg for the Yale Repertory Theater’s productions of Measure for Measure and Richard III.  

I am also the Vice President, Corporate Development for Freedom Disability (www.freedomdisability.com) and Alpha (www.alphadisability.com).  After completing my MFA at Yale I moved out to San Francisco to participate in the death throes of the dotcom boom.  For the past ten years I have worked in sales, marketing, and new product development. 

In reading Shakespeare I have always been fascinated by how his characters inspire, cajole, manipulate, and motivate each other.   Whether the hero or the villain, a minor character or the titular lead, one useful lens to look at Shakespeare’s characters is to consider how, and how well, they lead others.  As leaders ourselves there is much we can learn from Shakespeare.  This blog is going to be my exploration of his works.  I intend to read his collected plays (all but a few for at least the second time) considering them, at least partially, as illustrations of effective and ineffective leadership models.  Wherever possible, I will draw comparisons to modern leaders, and I will have some friends and colleagues weigh in as well.  

I welcome feedback and thoughts — and thanks for reading!