Two wolves

Scott Sambucci
5 min readJul 17, 2019

I’ve been reading a book by George Mumford called “The Mindful Athlete.” In the book, Mumford shares a fable attributed to the Native American Cherokee tribe about two wolves at war with each other.

If you’ve never heard of George Mumford, that’s okay. Most people haven’t. I didn’t before I heard Mumford interviewed on the Impact Theory podcast.

But chances are you’ve heard of a couple of basketball players named Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, and a coach named Phil Jackson. Jackson brought in Mumford to be the mindset coach for his Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Laker teams, leading those teams to a combined 11 NBA championships.

Who would have thought these guys — the absolute best in the world at what their profession — would need a coach? Great side lesson here — even the best know they can get better.

Now, back to the story of the two wolves:

One day a man spoke to his grandson about a battle going on between two wolves.

One wolf is evil. It represents anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The grandson thinks a while about the warring wolfs and then asks his grandfather, “So which wolf will win?” The grandfather simply replies, “The wolf that wins is the one that you feed.”

This story has made a big impact on my thinking over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been considering how it relates to startups and selling.

I know that for myself in running my own company, too often, I find myself mired in actions that feed the evil wolf.

There are times when I felt guilt and regret when a sales call didn’t go well. At times, I’ve lamented about the time and effort invested in prospects that ultimately aren’t a good fit for our coaching programs, and I’ve felt resentment and anger about the failure of our own sales process in these situations.

I enjoy an ego boost when a new client joins the program and when our clients share a win of their own — raising a funding round, reporting customers and revenue growth or finally hiring that Sales VP they’ve been recruiting for months.

I feel jealously and envy when I look at my LinkedIn and Facebook feeds and see successes that others are sharing, wondering why my day didn’t go as well.

I’m sure it’s the same with all of us — and that’s why this fable was passed down through the generations of the Cherokee tribe.

We have to remember our purpose — Why did we start our company in the first place? Who do we want to serve? Why did we jump off the corporate ladder and begin the long journey forward to make an impact in our market?

When we’re selling, we must always remember this purpose — the true why behind our sales conversations. We must always remember to be empathetic, humble and generous to our prospects. We must help them discover the truth behind their problems and discover how we can truly help them to achieve the personal and professional outcomes they want to achieve.

This is why I’ve always hated the idea of “closing a sale.” As a seller, we haven’t “closed” anything. Our new customer’s decision to buy our products is really just the opening to a new path forward — it’s the start of a relationship that we hope lasts for decades to come.

If in our sales calls, if in our attitudes, if in our conversations, we see each prospect as a means to an end — MRR, a step closer to the next funding round, another proof point that we’re right about the hypothesis behind our company, then even if we’ve won that deal, we’ve lost the battle — because those reasons only feed the evil wolf.

In the foreword of the book, Jackson wrote — “A lot of athletes think the trick to getting better is just to work harder. But there is great power in non-action and non-thinking. The hardest thing, after all the work and all the time spent on training and technique, is just being fully present in the moment.”

Instead, if we view every prospect and every sales conversation as an opportunity to be generous, to share knowledge and to be kind, then we are feeding the good wolf. When sit and listen — really listen to our prospects and customers instead of contriving what to say next, even in the days and weeks and months when we don’t hit the numbers we carefully placed into a spreadsheet before our last board meeting, we win the battle within and feed the good wolf.

We can only win the day, we can only fulfill our personal and company missions, and we can only achieve our vision unless we starve the evil wolf and feed the good wolf.

That is who we are, that is who we set out to be, that is who the world needs us to be.

Plus, whenever you’re ready, here are 3 ways I can help you grow your startup…

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Scott Sambucci

Startup Selling: Sales Coach for Startup CEOs, Speaker, Author, Teacher.