12 Elements of Relational Leadership — From a Salesperson’s Perspective (Part 1)
Typically, I focus this column on selling tile. However, for salespeople to achieve any ongoing degree of success, effectual leadership must be established within their company. A leader is the company’s standard-bearer. A leader sets the tone for customer relations. A leader is the moral authority of those he leads. So, I’ve decide to write this and my next column on behalf of all those salespeople out there who are crying out for leadership in their organization.
I’ve pinpointed 12 different elements of leadership. If you are the leader of your company, I urge you to look at each point and consider how you are addressing the issue. Or maybe you’ll just happen to find this issue of National Floor Trends on your desk and open on this page. (Now how did that get there?)
Regardless of how this article was brought to your attention, I hope you’ll read on. As I address the first six elements of leadership in this issue, ask yourself how well you are doing as a leader. Or better yet, ask your salespeople and other employees the same thing.
1. Believing vs. Conveying. Do you believe in your cause? Your company? Your product? Belief is not only the first element of leadership, it’s also the primary component of effective salesmanship.
I’m sure you’ve worked for managers who relayed information to you such as, “The boss says we need to get our tile sales up. So, what can we tell him we are doing to increase sales?” This kind of manager isn’t going to be effective because he doesn’t believe in what he’s saying. He is simply conveying information no more effectively than an old, outdated cassette tape recorder can.
When salespeople don’t believe in the product they’re demonstrating, you may catch them giggling as they present the features and benefits of the product.
However, a manager-leader who believes in the task at hand will speak with conviction and demonstrate a pro-active attitude. “Let’s sit down and see what we can do to increase your sales,” he’ll say, and then follow up with a give-and-take exchange of ideas that will go a long way to actually increasing sales.
2. Farsighted vs. Nearsighted. I remember when, as a youngster, I first discovered that I needed eyeglasses. I was playing around with my sister-in-law’s glasses and put them on to make everybody laugh. When I did so, blurry far-away shapes became clear and distinct. Trees had leaves! Until that time, I didn’t realize that I was nearsighted because my vision deteriorated so slowly that I hadn’t noticed.
A similar dynamic applies to leadership. You can get so nearsighted and caught up in the day-to-day problems of your business, that your long-term goals become fuzzy. Eventually, you may not even realize what is happening.
True leaders are farsighted. They provide their followers with a clear vision of what lies ahead. And we’re not even talking about ethical leaders here — even immoral leaders provide a vision, immoral as it may be, for their followers!
With this in mind, consider what vision your people are working toward each day. Are you articulating that vision? Are you helping them to understand their roles in achieving that vision? Not all leaders are born farsighted. Some need more than others to develop that capacity. Resolve to obtain your “leadership glasses.”
3. Role Modeling vs. Lip Service. Have you ever thought about the role models in your life? What purpose do they serve? Do you want to duplicate in yourself everything that those role models are? Most people don’t necessarily try to emulate the whole person, just an admirable aspect of that person’s character.
You can role model wisdom from King Solomon in his younger days. (However you may not want to role model the marriage habits of his later years — 700 wives plus 300 concubines. Wow! To me, that equals 1,000 weekly reminders to take out the trash.) You can also role model the incredible optimism of Ronald Reagan’s leadership without necessarily making his politics your own.
However, keep in mind that when people are watching leaders, they typically look at the whole person to see if he or she is really someone they wish to model their lives after. So in your role as a leader, be aware that most people are watching you as a whole person. They are waiting to see if you yourself truly “walk the walk.” As Harold Geneen, the founder of MCI Communications, said, "Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”
4. Communicate vs. Dictate. When you speak, do you also listen? Our society has become extremely self-focused. People are more concerned about being heard, rather than hearing. One-sided communication is not an option for a leader. A true leader communicates his vision and listens to his people. A person in a leadership position who has poor listening skills is not a leader at all, but a dictator at best.
When your followers ask, “Where are we going?” they deserve a good answer. If they ask, “How are we going to get there?” they anticipate direction, not directives. Can you articulate your vision? Do you hear the needs of your followers? Strong leaders typically have excellent communication skills.
5. Convert vs. Conform. Have you ever been at the crossroads in a relationship when you said, “Hmmm…I either have to dump ’em or see if I can change ’em”? As you probably found out in such an instance, bringing about change in people isn’t an easy task. And in retrospect, you sometimes realize that you’d have been better off just “dumping ’em.”
This relational dynamic is true in all relationships — especially so in a work environment. It’s been my experience that, if someone has the right attitude, I can supply the necessary opportunities to improve his or her tile knowledge. However, when somebody has tile knowledge but sports a poor attitude, often there is little — if anything — I can do to bring about a change of that attitude.
People with bad attitudes frequently pretend to conform to the vision and values of the company (when the boss is looking), but they are not true converts. Those sad dogs who pretend to conform — but who continually whine, complain, fight, or consistently act in a negative manner — should be given a very limited timeframe in which to become a convert who truly believes in your vision and values. When they fail to get in step with your system and goals, place those sad dogs up for adoption.
6. Guidelines vs. “Stay Within the Lines.” Remember when you were in school and the teacher told you to color inside the lines — what’s the first thing that came to mind? Well, I’ll bet most of you wondered how much fun it would be to color outside the lines. And I’ll also bet many of your salespeople did, too!
Relational leadership recognizes this impulse in people. Don’t require your sales personnel to “stay within the lines.” That will quickly demoralize them and inhibit an “attitude of ownership” that you need them to develop.
Competent sales people should be encouraged to think and act outside the lines. Give salespeople guidelines by defining your expectations and holding them accountable for the results. But be sure to allow competent salespeople to apply their creativity to figure out their own methods and procedures without being subject to overbearing amounts of guidance.
So, based on the issues I’ve raised thus far, how do you rate yourself as a leader? So far, so good — I hope. I also hope you’ll be back for the next issue of NFT when I’ll address the remaining six elements of relational leadership.