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  • Brett Zalaski

What I Did Wrong...Manager Edition

Editor's Note: You can check out the salesperson version of this article from Tuesday here.


There are a ton of individual things I did wrong as a manager of people. I've also had over 100 of my reps win league awards and over 50 move on to managerial opportunities within pro sports...so I've done some things right, too. This piece will not be about direct management. This piece will focus on things that, as I took over teams, I struggled with on a macro or personal level. For me, I isolated three areas that I really messed up that I would change if I ever got team side again...check them out:

  1. Complaining about something does not make you part of the solution: I've been a part of organizations that complained about our fans ('It's a winner's city,' or 'It's a late arriving crowd'), our stadium ('It's too far out of the way,' or 'It doesn't have X, Y, Z), our circumstances ('This team isn't winning, how am I supposed to sell?'), other departments ('How am I supposed to do my job if marketing doesn't do theirs?'), and etc, etc, etc. Here is a 100% fact about that bitching: It never solved anything. John Mason once said that, '...the most unprofitable item ever manufactured is an excuse.' He was 100% right. You were in sales, your job is to find solutions. I've heard people saying complaining helps them when they just get it out. If that's the case, say it to their face and then work to find a solution WITH them. Otherwise you're solving nothing, just feeding into a toxic culture. And the more you complain, the easier it becomes to complain. And the more you complain, the less you actually solve. And I know...I've solved a LOT of nothings, and I've solved a lot of ACTUAL challenges, and I sold WAY more tickets by solving challenges.

  2. Creating a 'Fun Culture' versus a 'Purposeful Culture': We see 'fun' all the time on LinkedIn and twitter in #sportsbiz...and I get it, a managers job is to sell your culture out to potential employees (and potential bosses). I've ran many 'fun cultures' and I've run many 'purposeful cultures'...and the purposeful cultures have always been the best. What would I have changed? Don't drink beer on the floor without a reason for it. Don't run a sales contest without a reason for it. Don't celebrate something without a reason for it. Your job as a manager isn't to make sure your reps like their job, your job as a manager is to make sure your reps know EXACTLY what they're supposed to be doing every day and you remove obstacles to ensure they can do it. PERIOD. The best sales days are ALWAYS the days when sales are happening because people acted with purposed and intention. Fun is a product of success. Fun does not last when it's fabricated or forced. Fun lasts when people achieve success and grow over time. Focus on that...not 'fun'.

  3. Sell Out and Down...Not Up: 'You need to sell up to senior management.' Or, 'One of my best skills is selling up to senior management.' Or, 'I need to get better at selling up to senior management.' I've said those and heard those thousands of times in professional sports. And there's a token of truth to them. Your ability to sell your vision to the people who hold the purse strings is an important skill. But doing all that work yourself is a fool's errand. Senior management will believe in you when they here your peers across the organization say they believe in you. Senior management will believe in you when they hear your reps say they believe in you. That type of social proof will last far longer and give you far more credibility than a slide presentation on the new organizational structure or your new thought on partial plans. I've been parts of organizations where I, and thus my team, have been thought of as an island. We did not get where we wanted to be. I've also been parts of organizations where I, and thus my team, felt integrated and in sync with the entire organization...and our successes and the opportunities it gave us from our peers and senior management were far more frequent. How can you do that? Walk around your office with no agenda. Talk to your reps, talk to your peers across the organization, ask senior members of the organization to lunch to talk about their path, etc. etc. etc. At least one hour every week, on your calendars, completely immovable. When everyone around you believes IN you, they'll do all your selling FOR you.


At the end of the day, your success as a manager comes down to other people. Are they seeking solutions, not accepting complaints? Are they purposeful in their execution? Are they purposeful in their personal growth? Do you have positive relationships and the trust of everyone around the office? If you can answer, 'Yes', to these, you'll be way ahead of where I was as a manager.


This article and the other article have both come with really deep reflection, which is something we don't do enough of in our day-to-day. Taking a deep, conscious breath and being genuinely honest with ourselves vs. where we want to be from time-to-time is really critical. I'm incredibly proud of what I've accomplished in my career, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't come alongside a billion mistakes, both personally and professionally. No matter how deeply you internalize these two articles, you're going to make mistakes, too. A lot of them. So please let your resiliency define you...not the mistakes or excuses. The Churchill quote up and on the right says it all. You got this...and, please, learn from my mistakes!