Tony Gates Consulting

Management Consulting

Thought Leadership

Social Media

Problem Solution

The Price of Words

The Price of Words

Missouri. The “Show Me State.”

Words. Better, it’s a nice, catchy state slogan like the 49 other (at least mostly) catchy state slogans. That was until I met my first “real” (meaning non-military) boss, Kevin Fowler. Even better was that Kevin Fowler is from this very same “Show Me State.” Who better, then, to actually push, cajole, kick, reward, and, really, lead me to the belief that is this state slogan as well?

(Kevin Fowler)

Pfizer was my very first “real” (civilian) job after spending 11 years in the Army as an artillery officer. Oh I was hot stuff – a West Point graduate, commanded troops, worked with nuclear weapons, responsible for the actual and literal lives of every man and woman in the units under my command… I was IT! I was trained by the world’s best leaders, at the world’s foremost leadership institution. I have classmates and close friends in a graduating class that has more than its share of General officers… I also served as a young officer under a bevy of leaders, some better than others, but that’s what I did. I led. I was a leader, I got things done.

Or so I thought. Kevin was my District Manager when I was a pharmaceutical sales representative for the largest drug maker on the planet. I would, thanks to Kevin and his boss, Regional Manager Duane Putnam, learn what leadership was and would use those very lessons and techniques when I was eventually promoted to District Manager. I went in thinking that these “mere civilians” (although Duane was a former naval officer) could teach me nothing more about leading people. Boy, was I wrong! Kevin (with lots of help from Duane) LED me out of my shaky Pfizer start by demanding I stop doing something that actually worked to get me through a pretty good Army career… He made me get past my tendency to “talk a good game.” I was good at it too… I would readily and easily tell people that I had everything under control, that everything would be okay, that I was on a path to success… to “watch my smoke” when I was assigned a task or had to give a status update. I let my words speak for me.

Kevin would frequently, and to great effect, call my bluff EVERY time. I came to almost (aw, who am I kidding… I really disliked him and dreaded our field rides together) regard him as “the enemy” and treated him as such. I’m certain that he didn’t relish his time with me either, but he stuck with it, and me, as any good leader would. I like to think it was because he saw something in me.

(My Pfizer, Chicago South District)

I saw that his making me show him, not tell him was having a positive, a really amazing result on my sales performance. I started to really enjoy calling on my physicians and providers and actually making a difference in their patients’ lives thanks to the accurate, well-presented clinical information I was giving them. They WANTED to see me… They, and their staffs LOOKED FORWARD to seeing me. I was getting beyond the surface, beyond the superficial, and helping. I ended up winning a multitude of sales awards, including the Representative of the Year Award for two of the four years I was a sales rep. I attribute my success to Kevin and will be eternally thankful to him. We are great friends still (this all happened in the 1992 – 1996 time-frame).

What’s more, is that as a part of the Pfizer expansion, Kevin left to St Louis (we were in the Chicago South District at the time) to manage a newly-created District, and promoted ME to come be his Institutional Sales Rep – a promoted position to help him!! Further, after a stint at Pfizer Training (a promotion I got because of Kevin’s fierce advocacy), the Regional Manager who promoted me to the coveted District Manager position was, yes, Duane Putnam!

(Me with fellow District Managers JoAnn Yeksigian, Rodney Stewart, and Regional Manager Duane Putnam)

I don’t want to discount the hard work, effort, great teammates and counterparts that made me successful at Pfizer, but that effort NEVER included my telling anyone to “watch my smoke.” I let my actions speak for me.

“Good things come in small packages,” “I’m going to do a great job for you,” “I’ve done this before, trust me,” “I’m an expert in my field,” “I’ll get it done on time,” “I love my family,” “I take care of my kids,” “I’m not a racist,” “I won’t let it happen again,” “You’re special to me,” “I’m a great leader,” and “I love you.” are ubiquitous. I’ve heard them all before, as, I’m sure you have. My answer: “Don’t tell me, show me.” I’ve also been known to say: “Don’t tell me about the labor, show me the baby.”

Kevin, a kidney transplant recipient, now works with Transplant Experience, a program that helps transplant patients get the most out of each day, and helps them get ready for what’s ahead. Their website is

On a Google + post about social media “experts,” and some ways to make sure they actually know what they’re talking about, a gentleman who I don’t really know, but now plan to find out a LOT about (I just got an alert saying he just added me), Tim Southernwood, had a great statement that really struck me. That he made it the same day I knew I was writing this, was poetic serendipity. Tim wrote: “Generally speaking, most experts don’t have to proclaim their expertise. It’s evident.” Kevin would approve and agree.

Words don’t cost much at all, making them worth very little. Actions, however, are gold.

That’s the point!

– Tony

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Leave a reply