We must do our best to lead with action and a positive attitude. There is always a better, smarter, and more efficient way to be doing things. Ignoring areas that need change, or even worse – complaining about them, is unnecessary, un-productive and demoralizing to others. Every day we have the opportunity to improve and sometimes it is quite blurry and stressful to know what to focus on next. We must continue to prioritize and do what is best for the organization and if we improve a little each day the results are amazing over time.
Now imagine a different environment where everyone is just “ok” with how things are. They are “ok” because it takes little effort to be that way. If they do not like something they can and will complain about it every time they have to deal with it. If there is something they think needs improvement, their first thought is “not my job”, or “I can’t control that”, or “someone else will take care of it one day”. Granted, there will always be people that think this way and sometimes they are right depending on what their role is. However, leaders think in terms like “If it is to be, it is up to me”. They carry the organization forward, they support and keep others motivated, and they recognize their teams for the good work they do.
Who are the leaders on your team? Can we help others grasp it and gain the desire to change and grow?
We often dream of building a team full of leaders; an unstoppable team of like-minded people that focus on forward progress and growth. Applying this to a specific example, we have hired over 20 sales people in the past 5-6 years, and can say that 25% of them have been successful and a lesser margin phenomenal. When thinking what has made the biggest difference in the success rate, there is no better answer than Leadership. Our current top sales person understands the power of Leadership and here are some the things I have noticed about him:
- He works extremely hard.
- He is strategic in what he does. He recently received the same professional certification that a core group of our customer base is required to receive. Something he is not required to do, but now he is really one of them.
- He is an expert in what we do.
- He knows he has to earn the right to win and what it takes to do so.
- He takes action when something needs change – He approached me over a year ago wanting to pursue a state contract purchasing vehicle. At the time, we had been unsuccessful in either getting on state contracts or found them to be ineffective in improving sales. I saw it as a lower priority item, yet he took charge and led the team in responding to the state contract RFP. We won it, and his leadership has made a difference.
- He cares about his reputation and continues to take care of customers after the sale. He understands the power of relationships and his customers are his friends.
- He questions authority when he thinks we should make a change. He is not always right, but our decisions and direction are always better because of it.
- He has learned to compartmentalize the wins and losses. Focusing on either too much creates complacency.
- He is always prepared – When he needs assistance on large deals, he is typically telling me or the person assisting him our part of the process and what he expects. He leads the charge to win.
- He is compassionate. If someone internally goes the extra mile to help him win a deal, he sends them a card and/or makes sure to recognize them. Or if a customer has a personally tragedy he is there to let them know how much he cares.
- He takes it upon himself to help drive creative marketing in his territory, rather than wait on marketing to suggest or not suggest what may be best.
So what is so special about this description? Aren’t these the sort of things we would expect any successful sales person to do? The answer is yes, but it is rare. Leadership continues to be rare, but we should never stop the quest to build perfect teams. As a follow up to this example – we currently have the best sales team we have ever had. There are more of these qualities in each member of our team than ever before. Success will follow, and they will continue to grow because they have the Leadership gene. I can also say the same about our other departments and teams.
This level of analysis can be applied to any type of organization or group of people. To give ourselves the best shot at a team full of leaders, we always put leadership at the front of the line in our hiring decisions – right up there with the person’s understanding and appreciation for providing exceptional customer service. All other skills/talents are secondary because they are much easier to teach/learn.
The leaders always stand out and it is because they take it upon themselves to make changes, improve, and consistently give extra mile service.
I was talking to one of my close friends (and a business owner) and he had recently conducted annual employee reviews. He was taken off guard by one of the employees who completely denied the need for improvement in a certain area, and also denied that anything was wrong with her performance. She even said “If it was an issue, why have you waited for a year to bring it up”? My friend was looking for advice of how to handle this issue and I gave the following feedback:
- Never avoid confrontation – the issue had been known for the better part of a year. The employee was right to be taken off guard by the negative feedback.
- Their leadership team has to get better with confrontation, or they should hold reviews more than once a year which will force them to face confrontation more frequently as an organization.
- Change performance reviews to include goal setting and review. It is much more effective if employees are held accountable for the goals they set, rather than reprimanding them for expectations that were never clearly defined.
One of two things happens when we avoid confrontation. Either we, or the person we delay to confront, will be surprised. They will be surprised that there is an issue and will likely disagree, or we will be surprised when the results which they are held accountable for are poor, due to avoiding the confrontation that is necessary to get back on the right track. With an employee situation, lack of confrontation can lead to terminating someone and if it is a surprise to them, we have not done our job as the leader”.
The issue of confrontation and the consequences of lack thereof, are applicable to every situation in both our personal lives and careers.
This thought came to mind when I was on vacation last week. Our entire family went to the beach and I was told “no” on two occassions that made me feel like someone was thinking for me. The first was at the state park. The wind was blowing too hard to go fishing in the boat so I decided I would go to one of my favorite spots and wade off the shoreline to fish. At the entrance, the park ranger told me I could go in, but that I could not get in the water because the “yellow flag” was up and the water was too rough. I could see the water where I wanted to go and it was only 2.5 feet deep, so in short, I thought he and his flag were crazy. I turned around and went back to the house. The other example was when we were getting ready to go fishing early one morning. We had the boat all ready to go and stopped at the gas station to get fuel, snacks, and beverages. It was 6:30 a.m and they were not authorized to sell alchoholic beverages until 7:00 a.m. Of course, these were for my rowdy crew only, but nevertheless, it was aggravating to have to wait 30 minutes because of the feeling that someone was thinking for me again.
Now obviously, these two examples have much more behind them. There is good reasoning for the rules the government imposed, and I think they are good in regards to the overall safety of society. But they made me feel like others assumed I was incapable of making responsible decisions. Then I reflected on Leadership and how we can potentially set the same kind of trap for other leaders within an organization.
Leaders need leaders too, however each of us values our own ability to think, strategize, and execute. We cannot take that away from others prematurely. It can be frustrating if someone is given a Leadership role, only to still be heavily guided in regards to what the strategy should be and how things should be executed. In the long run we should bring the best people on the team and be patient. It will be apparent if they have the leadership and skills necessary to be the valuable member needed, but only if we are patient. If we are patient and they are not what we expected, we should make a change soon. If we are impatient and jump in to start doing the thinking for them it delays the inevible and the following is likely to happen: The organization will not benefit from the leadership that we intended to bring in because it has just become an extension of our own efforts with no originality; We will know later rather than sooner that we made the wrong choice; Or the person could really have what it takes, yet they were not given enough time. If this is the case they will feel stifled and will eventually move on to an organization where they feel appreciated and can help with growth.
Patience is a virtue of leadership and is something that must be practiced when working with other leadership tyes. We all do things differently and sometimes at a different pace. We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy selecting the members of our team, especially those that are being placed into Leadership positions, or are expected to quickly grow that way. It is a disservice to them if we do not allow them the time and space to think for themselves, which is really how they will make a difference and contribution at a high level. Let them think. Let them set their own goals and boundries. Otherwise they are given a handicap right out of the gate, for which they will feel stifled and the organization will not benefit from their originality, aspirations, or their style of leadership.