Resilience, tenacity, and faith. They all give us the ability to look at the situation as temporary, which helps create the mindset that you can get through the crisis. Navy SEALs have a saying, that “the only easy day was yesterday.” This means that when you work hard, you get past your limits, and in retrospect, yesterday seems easy. Confronting challenges means you can’t fail. You can only grow, and get better, making all those yesterdays easier.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Paranteau.
Joe Paranteau is a leading expert on sales, generating more than $1B in just five years, an uncommon accomplishment. He has led nearly 30K sales meetings in his 28-year career with Fortune 500, SMBs, and startup businesses. In his first book, Billion Dollar Sales Secrets, he shares fifteen secrets to help inspire salespeople to rise to meet today’s challenges, ignite their dreams and success. Connect with him on LinkedIn @thejpar.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I didn’t have much of a childhood. My parents divorced when I was eight years old, and I had to grow up quick. We were poor and I’d do jobs like mowing the lawn to help out. I’d even try to help make money by painting rocks and selling them door-to-door as paperweights. We shopped at scratch and dent stores, and I remember we often ate expired food because people would give it away or sell it for less. Even though we were poor, we laughed a lot and managed to stay optimistic. My mom went to school to learn how to be an occupational therapist. I’d split time with my Dad and mother growing up — each lived on a different coast. My Dad lived in California, and my Mom in New York. I worked lots of jobs before I graduated high school, at which point I chose to join the military.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I work for Microsoft leading a great team of salespeople. I also help lead our health industry and enjoy the work we do with healthcare companies. It’s gratifying to know that our work has a tangible impact in the lives of others. I’ve also started a couple other companies including a real-estate investing company and also a perfume and organic beauty products company that I sold.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I spent eight years in the US Air Force. The military is in my blood, I come from a family with lots of military service. It’s part of our warrior culture. Native Americans serve at greater rates than any other minority group in the US. We do so to protect the land that has belonged to us since time immemorial.
I served for four years as an electronic technician repairing navigational systems, ATC radar, and weather systems for US Air Force and Army airfields all around the world. I served during both the Cold War, in the former West Germany when the Wall separating East and West Germany existed and then again during Operation Desert Storm. The Berlin wall came down when I left the military after my first 4-year tour to attend college full time, then Saddam invaded Kuwait and I was pulled back into the military under a provision in my contract. I spent another 4 years serving in the US Air Force Reserves.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Everyone who wears the uniform today is a hero, and those who have answered the call in the past are all heroes. Heroes, in my definition, do what others will not do when it’s needed. Everyone in the military takes an oath, raises their hand, and pledges to protect the freedoms we all enjoy. We know that in this job, we may be asked to give all (our very lives). Microsoft and other companies don’t have such a demand for its employees.
I did have the pleasure of getting to know a remarkable hero. His name is Jesse Miller. He served as an aircraft mechanic during WW2 and was stationed in Manila. Jesse and his unit fought the Japanese army for three months, battling malaria and hunger before being captured as a prisoner of war. Jesse miraculously survived the “Bataan Death March”, a forced march of 80,000 POWs over difficult terrain that took five days. Sadly, a third of them didn’t. Jesse also survived his time in prisoner camp, where he was subjected to torture, malnourishment, and beatings. Amazingly, Jesse used his time to pray for his captors. He came close to dying so many times, and even faced a firing squad.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
Jesse is a hero, not because he was captured, but because he did what was hard, when it was needed. The Japanese soldiers marching the enemy were brutal and committed many atrocities. Jesse chose to forgive them, try to see their humanness, and pray for them. Doing what’s hard, what seems unnatural, when needed defines a hero. Jesse knew these men needed their spirits healed, and so he did the unnatural in praying for his captors. Even after his release, he went back and reunited with his captors. His strength, and bravery has always inspired me. It was an honor to know and learn from Jesse, and his wife Nellie.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Yes, it absolutely helped prepare me. In the military, you learn a few key concepts early that shape your experiences. One is called attention to detail. In basic training, all the shining of boots, removing stray threads off your clothes are examples of how you teach attention to detail. When everyone is focused on the little things, it helps solve big challenges by taking them one step at a time. Another lesson is teamwork. Everyone must work together. The entire system is architected for teamwork, and lone wolves do not last.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My Uncle Bob had a huge impression on my life. He was also in the Air Force during the same time I served and encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone, and to believe that anything was possible. He was full of optimism and positivity. In my book, Billion Dollar Sales Secrets, I tell the story of the time Uncle Bob took me fishing early one morning. We noticed a man coming out of the dumpster who scared me, but Uncle Bob seemed to know who he was. He told me he was a modern-day entrepreneur. I laughed, then he introduced me. The man was collecting aluminum cans, and he shared how he made this his morning routine and recycled them for money. He was making more than $100/month, and it made the wheels in my mind start turning. I could have a paper-route and collect aluminum to save for a car. And guess what? I did exactly that. In a few months, I had enough money for a car. Rather than feel sorry for myself, my Uncle Bob showed me there is always a way forward toward your goal.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
Crises are unexpected moments that cause panic, fear, and shock. Crises call for an immediate pivot to address a new and confusing reality.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Most companies don’t have a crisis plan in place, and if they do, many don’t take the time to test it. Companies should always simulate a crisis before one happens. In the military, this is a common practice. We simulated everything from nuclear detonations to chemical attacks to terrorist attacks, and more. Then, when the actual crisis occurred, it was never as bad as the training, and we all had valuable learning from the preparation.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
Information is key in any crisis. In the military we would call this C3, communication, command, and control. When you think about it, all are filled with information. There is the ability to communicate freely, develop command structures to carry out a mission, and feedback loops.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Resilience, tenacity, and faith.They all give us the ability to look at the situation as temporary, which helps create the mindset that you can get through the crisis. Navy SEALs have a saying, that “the only easy day was yesterday.” This means that when you work hard, you get past your limits, and in retrospect, yesterday seems easy. Confronting challenges means you can’t fail. You can only grow, and get better, making all those yesterdays easier.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My friend Jesse comes to mind. It’s hard to imagine what he went through, and how he managed to get through each day.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I’m used to adversity, and setbacks. In college, I had a major setback. During the night, a drunk driver ran into my parked car. I only had liability insurance, so I was left without a way to get to my job. But to afford school, I had to work full time during college, and managed a Blockbuster video. I struggled and had no idea what to do. I knew I’d have to take the bus to get there but didn’t know how I’d get back home. I donated blood for bus fare and would walk the parking lots at night to pick up spare change. Some nights, I walked the two hours home. When I think about it, I can still feel how totally defeated I felt during that moment. But in time, I learned to be thankful to have experienced it, and to have bounced back. If I can bounce back from that, my range of upsides are increasing.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Assess the situation. This is the most important initial step. Get information on your new reality. When I was in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, I learned to look around and study my environment daily. I learned where the gangs were located, and more importantly where the police and military were as well. I learned to stay in hotels where police also were staying. People were shot in the lobbies of hotels for a laptop, it was vital to always be aware of where I was and who was around me.
- Develop a plan. Move in a direction that is based on a plan. If your plan is incorrect, you will find this out quickly and can adjust. The plan doesn’t have to be complex, but you should know what you want to accomplish, even if it’s just one thing.
- Act. It’s similar to the last step, but don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen. Too many people in Katrina and other crises waited for help that never arrived.
- Build alliances. You never know when you are going to need friends or people with specific skills. Always be a good diplomat and get to know what each person in your area has to offer.
- Be observant for the opportunity. People can be so busy looking at the downside of a situation, that they cannot see the opportunities. Keep your eyes open for opportunity. I regret that I didn’t buy that “fixer upper” when it was easily affordable.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Right now, it’s selling. AS we turn the corner on the COVID economy, companies need to recover, and sales is how it’s going to happen. We all sell, whether we realize or not. But many of us need more guidance, to deliver what is valued, and not what’s popular. Think about the implications of a lost sale, losing customers, and reverse growth. Now, think about what could happen if you turned those situations around and are successful beyond your wildest dreams. It is a skill for good.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Elon Musk. He is an innovator that I have a lot in common with. I always wanted to be an astronaut when I was young and recall reading about how to make a radio from a toilet paper holder. I succeeded, but admit I had to get some parts at Radio Shack. But that experience was so satisfying that I’ve been thinking up and building ideas ever since. Elon seems to have a lot of natural creativity, plus engineering skill. It’s a rare mix, and I’d love to know more about how he got started young in his life. It seems like he is always thinking up new ideas and solutions to problems, does not sleep much, and is creative. I’d enjoy chatting about organic nanotech, space, and tech.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.