It’s my belief that you can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good one. And, unfortunately, there are more bad examples out there to observe than good ones, especially in sales leadership. While both types of examples can produce powerful lessons, I’ve found the bad examples actually tend to stick longer because they leave scars. I’m going to describe one of those bad leadership examples in this article so we can learn from it, however, I don’t want to impeach anyone’s good name—and I know leaders have bad hair days—so I’ll change some facts and use fictional names.
Let’s go way back in time using Joe B.’s hot tub blog machine.
Twenty-five high-level people were invited to the posh hotel meeting room for the two-day conference. The group was made up of a dozen market specialists, some territory leaders and a few home office personnel. We were told that the objective of the meeting was to “mastermind” some of the “best practices” being used throughout the organization so these practices could be applied in the markets we were responsible for. It sounded like it was going to be a cool meeting.
The star of our fictionalized story is a young man named, “Dirk”. Dirk had risen to a lofty executive management position in the organization, largely based on his relationships, his ability to self promote and his business acumen. Dirk may not have had the kind of long successful field track record that others had, but he was no dummy, in fact, he was rather brilliant in his ability to understand market conditions, create appropriate strategies and articulate them.
I was late because of a cancelled flight. Dirk stalked the floor in the middle of the ‘U’ shaped conference table as I walked in. He nodded at me and continued his diatribe, rattling off metrics from a report that he referred to as “poor performance”. By the time my butt hit the seat I could already sense that most of the air had been sucked from the room. I did a quick 360. There wasn’t one person smiling. The body language of my peers indicated that the first thirty minutes of the meeting hadn’t been a positive experience for anyone.
The collaborative “mastermind” that was advertised never materialized. The honest input from attendees, an exchange of ideas that would have been extremely valuable, was rarely facilitated by Dirk. When Dirk did solicit feedback, the person offering it was either challenged or diminished by him.
A lady, we’ll call “Kathy”, politely inquired about a modest budget that might enable us to do some of the things our competitors were doing. Kathy was slammed by Dirk, made to feel the request was silly. You could see the energy drain from her as she slinked down in her chair. Another one of our peers, “John”, offered an opinion on product design and was shut down by Dirk immediately. I watched John cross his arms. He didn’t say a thing or even bother to take a note for the rest of the day.
Dirk’s crowning achievement was singling out one of our co-workers. He took issue with a practice she was using and he provoked her until tears ran down her cheeks.
Dirk was center stage for most of the two-day meeting, espousing his philosophies. Some of what he taught us wasn’t bad. Again…the guy was no dummy, however, I’m not sure what he hoped to accomplish by turning what could have been a positive and collaborative learning experience into a negative one and merely a platform for his inflexible and singularly formed opinions. I’m sure this wasn’t his ultimate intent, but it certainly was the result.
I’m a very curious sort about leadership issues. I study leadership, always observing what works and what doesn’t. I absolutely love the art and science of getting the BEST out of people, spurring them to new heights. I knew how I was feeling about the meeting (not good), but my inquisitive nature took over and I conducted an informal straw poll during the last break.
I cruised around the meeting room, delicately asking attendees how they were feeling. I wanted to hear what they had to say. Some of them were more harsh in their contempt of the meeting than others. Some were downright pissed. Others coolly muttered phrases like, “Waste of time,” and, “The Dirk show,” under their breath. The most positive disposition I noticed could only be described as indifference.
The meeting was the embodiment of a bad leadership example. Think about it, Dirk called a bunch of talented people together for two days. He spent his valuable time planning the meeting and also dedicated company budget to host it. The people that attended committed their own time and money. You can’t argue the fact that the ultimate objective of holding any such meeting would be to offer a platform that would foster better sales results.
It’s also very difficult to argue the fact that better sales results don’t often emanate from salespeople that are disheartened, aloof, or pissed off.
So, how is it that a smart person like Dirk squandered all of his (and our), valuable time and resources only to have us walk out of the meeting demotivated? After all, we all went there ready to learn and share. Dirk had us in the palm of his hand. But the sum total of the two-day meeting was a net loss for the company.
HOW did this happen?
Dirk lost sight of the main thing, the thing that really counts when you’re a leader and you’re in front of your volunteer army. Regardless of the nature of the message…
…you MUST make salespeople FEEL GOOD when you’re in front of them!
I wish it was more complex than that, but it’s not. One of your highest callings as a leader is to always be “Dr. Feelgood” when you’re in front of your team. They must walk away from you feeling good about the following:
- YOU – They have to want to continue to follow you
- The ORGANIZATION – They must feel good about the mother ship
- The DIRECTION – They have to respect the strategies being deployed
…and most importantly…
- THEMSELVES – It’s your job to make people feel good about themselves!
If you are a follower of www.TheCAPequation.com, you’re most likely an outside sales professional and most of your (or your team’s), compensation is probably commission-based. We commission sales folk are funny people. We rarely produce at our capacity if we don’t FEEL GOOD.
We don’t need all the best products or tools. We don’t have to have the best training, resources or strategies. Our leader doesn’t even need to be the smartest person in the room. Those things are not the most critical factors to our success. However. if a leader makes us FEEL GOOD we will follow him or her through fire! As a leader, being “Dr. Feelgood” is one of your most important roles (and it will yield the greatest ROI for you as a leader).
If you are serious about developing into the best leader you can possibly become, then I want you to look around, be hyper-aware of how the leaders surrounding you walk, talk and act. I also want you to be cognizant of how you feel after an encounter with them. Regardless of how they make you feel, there is a lesson to be learned (and maybe not repeated). Don’t underestimate the power of a bad example.
There is always the rest of the story. As I charted the paths of the team represented in that meeting, I noted that 100% of them TURNED OVER within 12 months. None of them were in the same position only one year after that meeting. Sadly, over 50% didn’t even stay in a position within the company.
As I kept in touch and inquired where they were going and why, I would get comments like, “I didn’t feel like it was the right position for me.” They’d say things such as, “It didn’t seem like my voice was important.” One of the people in that meeting told me, “I never felt good about what we were doing and where my career was headed after that one meeting.”
So, you tell me. How important is it that we make people feel good about themselves, their organization, the work they’re doing and us as leaders? Are you Dr. Feelgood for your team?
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