Pay attention to the details. We have all heard this advice at one time or another, but this simple sentence made up of 5 words remains a challenge to consistently implement throughout most of our lives. Fortunately for yours truly, during an impressionable time of my life, I was fortunate to experience a  lesson that cemented the importance of paying attention to small details into my subconscious.

My first job as a young business-to-business sales professional taught me the skills, mindset, and work ethic necessary to succeed.  I worked for an office supply distributor in a cutthroat industry with little patience for underperforming business development managers. Nearly 6 months into my role, our National Sales Manager flew from Chicago to Dallas to meet, evaluate, and provide training for our small office. I was nervous prior to her visit, because I thought it was important that I make a good impression on her and keep myself on her good side.  Word on the street suggested she was a very intimidating woman and an individual who held little patience for excuses. She wanted to see results. Period. If you failed to produce results, your job would come to an end quickly. My sales numbers were good, in fact, I was the top “rookie” sales professional in the company. However, that fact did not quiet my nerves. In my inexperienced mind, I thought I was one mistake away from losing my job.

I wanted to make a great first impression and show her I was a young professional capable of success. The day before her visit I had my one and only black suit dry cleaned, and I realized it was finally time to buy new dress shoes. My current shoes were scuffed up, faded, and dirty. I visited a nearby mall and bought a brand-new pair of shiny black shoes. I was ready to meet the National Sales Manager.

Our sales team spent a full day with the National Sales Manager discussing our business processes, successes, failures, ideas, and customer relationships. We role-played sales scenarios and practiced overcoming common objectives received in the field. My anxiety and nervousness faded away quickly as I began to understand the purpose of the visit was not to make our team feel inadequate, but instead, to help us learn and grow.

As the day ended, we were treated to a team dinner at a popular steakhouse. As we were leaving the office, the National Sales Manager placed her hand on my shoulder and asked me to speak with her in private. She told me that she appreciated my work ethic and was impressed by the sales numbers I had achieved in a short period of time with the company. She encouraged me to keep learning the art of sales and asked that I call her if I ever needed help.

She then gave me a compliment I’ll never forget.  “Greg, I know you will succeed in business because of one thing.  You keep your shoes incredibly clean. That tells me you pay attention to the little things. People who pay attention to the little things possess habits that ensure they accomplish the big things. You are the only person in this office with clean shoes. I’ve learned throughout my career that people with clean shoes are the people I want on my team.”

Now, she did not realize that the cleanliness of my shoes had nothing to do with my personal habits but had everything to do with the department store from which they were purchased the day before. But, wow, what a lesson! Her compliment made a profound impact on my life both professional and personally.  Since that day I’ve kept my shoes clean and polished, and I intentionally avoid presenting myself in a sloppy or lazy look regarding my appearance. That doesn’t mean that I dress expensively, but instead I take pride in making certain I focus each day to look my best based on my circumstances and environment. This habit has radically improved my self-esteem.

Focusing on the small details in all aspects of my life requires strategic thinking, planning, organization, defined processes, self-discipline, and repetition. The results give me a competitive advantage in pursuing  my goals. It all started with a simple compliment. 

How are your shoes?