I remember when I was selected as the Director of Sales at DCA Imaging Systems. It felt like I have arrived! I still remember how amazing it felt to tell people “I’m a Director!” I’m writing and laughing about this now, but I assure you, when I received that job title I felt super important. Back then I thought that as soon as I showed up for my new role everyone would be excited to see me and all I’d have to do is tell people what to do and set their goals and vision for them to achieve. And of course I would throw amazing ideas out and have people automatically accept them because I’m the Director of Sales!!! Hahahaha, I hope you can feel the humor I’m trying to convey because I literally have tears coming out of my eyes just thinking about this.
Boy was I wrong! In reality, when I met my new team, I realized that they were extremely experienced, sold longer than I’ve been in the industry, and have been doing great without me for over a decade! They simply didn’t need me or anyone to tell them anything and they knew it! When I said lets go right, they went left. When I said lets implement xyz, they went to the president and complained. It was one of the most frustrating and challenging times of my life and I’m sincerely saying that after two successful combat tours with the Marines! I felt stuck! Everything I thought I knew about leadership wasn’t working with this group.
Knowing what I know now I can easily say that I actually didn’t know much about leadership and knew tons about management. There truly is a tremendous difference between the two. You can probably search for “leader vs manager meme” and see the differences laid out for you. What I hope to accomplish with this writing is to share with you what I learned and help someone who is feeling stuck in their role as a leader.
My friend, mentor, and the world’s Guru on leadership, John C. Maxwell, says “leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.” As a matter of fact, the best way to measure a person’s leadership ability is by seeing how many people they’re able to influence. See, most people are placed into leadership positions because they were great in their field of work. I’ll use the sales world since that’s the one I’m most familiar with. When companies select a sales manager they usually pick a person who’s great at sales. The mistake is made by not realizing that once they get promoted they’re no longer in sales, they’re in people development. Many leaders who grew up through the ranks believe:
- Because it worked for me it will work for you
- If I create multiple people like me then we’ll have the best team
- Because of me this team will do great
- I’m here to make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing
In addition, they manage the way they were managed. I remember my go to during our one on one meetings was to start digging through the activity levels and forecasted sales numbers. Because that’s how I was managed, I thought that’s how managing should be done. Many companies are still using this method and it works when trying to generate new business. It is true that what gets measured improves, I get that! The downside to this mentality and what leaders receive in return for this type of management is high turnover and lack of loyalty. In many cases their customers suffer because their sales reps aren’t incentivized to develop relationships, they’re only incentivized to find and close new business.
What I learned and would like to share with you is that great leaders realize that once they take on the amazing responsibility of leading people, they are no longer in the field they were in before. Their career has changed to people development. Their job should no longer be focused on bringing in more business. Instead, they should be focusing on growing and developing their people and in return, their people will bring in more business. Being a leader is hard work but the good news is that the process is simple and even I can do it!
If you don’t agree that the role of a leader is to equip and develop their people, then you probably won’t agree with the rest of this article. However, if you do agree, what follows is gold! If you’re able to implement this into your leadership style, you will gain a following of people who will be ready to charge hell with a water pistol if that’s what you wanted to do!
Here are the steps John Maxwell teaches to effectively train and equip your people. As a leader:
- I do it before I teach it – It is ineffective to teach people to do something you cannot do. Many leaders make the mistake of setting expectations much higher for their people than themselves. It’s important to be honest with yourself. I see it all the time in the sales world. The manager says make 100 calls and they’ve never made 100 calls themselves. That’s a big no no!
- I do it and you’re with me – As a leader you want to be more of a tour guide than a travel agent. You see a travel agent just sends people on their way to take a trip. A tour guide grabs the person by the hand and goes along with them on the journey. Be the tour guide for your people. Show them how to do it and let them see you do it. If you want them to make 100 calls, you make them first and let them see that it could be done. They will love you for that!
- You do it and I’m with you – The most wonderful thing for a leader is the “ball handoff”. You’re still together and as the leader you’re watching and coaching. However, the person is now picking up that responsibility. It’s ok if they’re not as good as you, don’t get frustrated! Just let them do it and watch them.
- You do it by yourself – As the leader you start to empower that person. They’re off on their own and they’re developing their own best way to accomplish the tasks. Many leaders have a challenge with this principle because they want to be the star of the show. They want to take the credit for their people’s success and because of this they have a tough time letting go. Remember, it’s no longer about you. Your whole life as a leader should now revolve around adding value to others and equipping your people to grow. Let it go! I actually wrote about this principle here Let Go to Grow!
- You do it and someone you’re training is with you – In addition to equipping and developing a great leader must multiply the knowledge and skill sets of their team members. Great leaders don’t just create followers, they create more leaders. Regardless of position and title that we hold, all of us have the ability to become great leaders. We just have to start intentionally adding value to others around us by teaching them what we know!
One thing you can do to start growing as a leader is simply ask your people what you can do better. Listen to what they say and try to do it! No matter where you may have fallen short thus far, you can change right now! You can start being a wonderful leader and turning your team around. You owe it to them!
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