In my previous article, I detailed the first six characteristics that salespeople look for in the leaders they follow. In this installment, I’ll discuss the remaining six elements of leadership. Read them carefully and see how you measure up.
7. Delegate vs. Abdicate. One of the biggest mistakes many company owners and managers make is to hiring somebody to do a task that they (the owners and managers) don’t like to do. They take the tasks of accounting, office management or sales management and “delegate” it to somebody who will “take care of it” for them. They assume that the job is being done well, but they have abdicated their responsibility. Only when disaster strikes does it occur to these owners and managers that something is amiss.
To illustrate my point, we can make an analogy with the conductor of an orchestra. He knows how each instrument in his orchestra is played and the sound it makes. He cues each musician on when to start playing, what beat to keep, when to play louder or softer, and when to stop.
Most of the players in the orchestra can play their instruments better than the conductor, but they still take their cues from him. A conductor delegates well. He, as the leader, enables his people to continually hone their craft within a defined structure. On the other hand, if he abdicates his leadership responsibility, just imagine what that orchestra will sound like.
In the same way, the leader of a business or company cannot abdicate her basic comprehension of each task that she delegates, nor should she micro-manage those she leads. A leader properly delegates the task holds people accountable for their actions.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
8. Acknowledgement vs. Take for Granted. Ken Blanchard of “One-Minute Manager” fame frequently asks his audience, “How many of you are sick and tired of all the compliments you’re getting at work and wish they would stop?”
About 15 years ago, my boss gave me a typed letter that expressed how much he appreciated all the time and effort I had spent at work. It wasn’t a card, just a sheet of paper. No gift, no money, no raise. Just a sincere note of thanks.
How much did that letter mean to me? Well, here I am 15 years later still talking about it. People need to be recognized for their achievements. The impact of sincere appreciation, along with private and public acknowledgement, cannot be overstated.
As a leader, you probably tend to look at what’s wrong, what needs to be improved and what needs to be done to forge ahead. Often unwittingly, leaders take for granted that their followers share their view of “the big picture” as it relates to the business. In reality, most followers don’t.
In a nutshell, your employees want to know whether or not what they do on the job is important. All people hunger for significance, and need affirmation of their personal worth. Most people define themselves by what they do. If you take your people for granted for very long, you’ll see that fire in their bellies slowly dwindle down to a bad case of indigestion.
9. Develop vs. Demolish. As I review resumes of prospective employees, I notice that most state a objective that goes something like this: “I am looking for a place of employment where my skills (or education) will be utilized and I have opportunities for professional growth.” Professionals that you hire are looking for a place where their past accomplishments have inherent value, and an opportunity to develop professionally, learn and grow. They seek an environment that offers training, education and allows them to increase their value and level of compensation.
To be honest, I find it difficult to constructively approach challenges from a “development” point of view. (But I’m trying to improve.) Obviously, it’s much easier to criticize. But don’t take the easy path. Careless or critical words can completely demolish employee morale. When employees look for affirmation but receive criticism, the results can be tragic.
As a leader, you need to ask yourself, “In my life, can I think of instances where the criticism I received was constructive?” If you’re like most people, probably more than 95% of all the criticisms you remember were destructive.
In his book “The Hunger for Significance,” R.C. Sproul says, “Constructive criticism is beneficial but there are few examples of it.” Before delivering criticism, check yourself — is it truly your heart’s desire to develop the person professionally or demolish the person personally? Make your choice wisely.
10. Presence vs. Isolation. When I take my Shih Tzu dog for a walk, he behaves like the little well-mannered domestic animal that he is. But when I take him on a hike to a place where he has never been before, his wolf roots come out. Being in his natural element, he sniffs the trees, looks for intruders, and his ears perk up at every sound. In a wild, unfamiliar setting, he becomes the big, bad wolf. No longer does he live in an isolated world. He walks around, establishing his presence.
The Swahili word for “dog” is “mbwa.” As leaders, we need take the lead of our mbwas at home and practice our own MBWA — Management by Walking Around. If you regularly take a walk around your company, you will elicit the informal input that you need to make better decisions.
Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Keheller practices MBWA. He’s even been known to serve peanuts to passengers on his planes. He doesn’t isolate himself from his employees, or make decisions based strictly by the numbers generated by the CPAs. Keheller knows that isolation from his employees would create an information vacuum, and that would not allow him to build the kind of airline that he wants to build.
He has established his presence on the front line. He learns from his employees, and he’s in touch with the challenges that arise when you deal with customers day after day. He goes out to sniff the air, looking for intruders that will harm his workforce. He establishes his presence in front of his workforce. Herb Kelleher works MBWA like a mbwa to make sure that his airline remains No. 1.
11. Personality vs. Character. Probably everyone has experienced the disappointment of finding out that somebody is not who he or she seemed to be. That person who seemed so friendly actually had a fiery temper. That fellow who seemed so charming instead was highly irresponsible. That boss who preached the importance of trust has, in fact, pursued some dishonest business dealings.
What happens is you discover the difference between the person’s personality and his true character. But it’s easy to make the distinction. Your personality is who you represent yourself to be. Your character is who you are when no one’s looking.
How different are the two? It depends on the individual. Sometimes a person’s character and personality are nearly identical very close; other times, there’s no correlation at all.
One thing I know for sure: eventually, your employees will have the opportunity to look past your personality into your character. It is during those defining moments you’re your people discover what you are working for and what you are made of. A good image is very important leadership trait. However, if your personality and image are not backed up with the reality of good character, it won’t be long until your leadership is usurped and respect for you goes out the window.
12. Support vs. Reports. In the final analysis, your job as an owner or manager is to provide support and leadership for your salespeople. The more tools and support that you give them, the better they’ll perform in the field. Limit their sales reports to the minimum amount of information necessary to hold them accountable for their work. Let your salespeople use their time to perform the task at hand — don’t turn them into report writers.
Now that you’re aware of the 12 Elements of Relational Leadership, how do you rate your performance as a leader? If you’re like me, you have a few specific areas that need improvement. On behalf of your sales staff, I challenge you to continue improving your skills — just as you want your sales staff to improve theirs. In particular, try to be the best role model you can be. Establish yourself as a model of continuous professional improvement, and don’t be surprised if your people start doing the same.