The MAN or The PLAN? Which One Do We Undeniably Follow?

I’m on the phone with my good friend, Les Heinsen, on Friday. We were catching up, talking about a lot of things, but mostly about leadership—building teams. He’s one of the purest leaders of salespeople I know, and when I can discuss leadership philosophies with him I jump at the chance. It’s what we’re both passionate about.

While we were talking, he evoked an old saying, “You don’t follow the plan, you follow the man.” It was a throw away comment, neither of us remarked about it, but after I hung up, I jotted his words down on my yellow pad and glared at them. I hadn’t heard the ageless saying in some time.

You want people to follow your lead. You scream at them, “Follow me, follow me…I’m your leader. You need to buy into my theories, philosophies and strategies.” You want them all to line up in a neat row and follow your brilliant plans, but it’s not that simple…it doesn’t really work that way.


In this short blog article I want to teach you (or remind you), how this “follow me” thing works.

My observation of organizational leadership leads me to conclude that many leaders actually believe that people will follow them—buy into their plans or strategies—simply because someone has anointed them as the team leader. The organization determines a new strategy or plan, and then thrusts it upon the middle managers to implement. The anointed leaders grab hold of the baton and start jamming it downline, running full speed ahead, assuming their underlings will blindly follow.

Now, you may be a great leader and you may already know how to lay the groundwork to foster trust rather than to rely on blind faith. But if you don’t know this and practice this I can tell you that, even if they submit to the new plan, they aren’t going to respect you, follow you or think of you as a great leader.

Here’s what author and noted speaker, Simon Sinek, had to say on this subject:

If you want to be a great leader, remember to treat all people with respect at all times. For one, because you never know when you’ll need their help. And two, because it’s a sign you respect people, which all great leaders do.”

You’ve also probably heard people say:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

(The quote above has been loosely credited to Peter Drucker, but the source is not clear)

Simon Sinek’s quote and the anonymous saying about “culture” would lead a bright person to ponder the order of things and ask the question again, do they line up to follow the man or the plan? Which comes first? Perhaps your philosophies are so well baked—maybe your company’s strategies are so brilliant—that you can jam those plans down a salesperson’s throat and they will follow them.

I wouldn’t bet on it, and if they do, they won’t follow for long.

I know how commission salespeople are wired. (If after 35 years I don’t, I should find a new business! LOL!) If you want to put all of the odds in your favor and move people, en masse, to follow your plans and direction, you should employ these 3 enlightened leadership practices:

  1. CONNECT to your salespeople on a PERSONAL level

We’ve discussed this concept in other CAP blog articles. It’s rather important that they like you and feel connected to you or they may never be receptive to what you have to teach them. If you haven’t read my blog article on this subject you may want to visit the link below.

It is so vitally important that your team feels that you care about them that they may not even hear what you are saying. The great American poet, Maya Angelou, said it this way:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

  1. TELEGRAPH the plan, strategy or changes you wish to implement

This is where most uninspired leaders drop the ball. These bulls in the china shop don’t stop to think about the fact that most salespeople LOVE their routines and HATE change. Now…we will accept the change eventually, but we need some time and we want to grumble about it a little—grieve the loss of the “old way”—before we shift into acceptance mode.

If this is true, why not give us the chance to do that?

Why not plan ahead and give people the time to get their heads wrapped around a new way of doing things. They may only need a few weeks or a few days, but why not telegraph what you are thinking and deal with their feedback and questions up front so that you can get to a place of acceptance before the launch of your new plan?

What have you got to lose by giving them the chance to chew on it? (Nothing)

What do you gain by springing it on them? (Nothing)

The key question you should be asking is, what can I gain by telegraphing, being transparent about a new direction, strategy or plan? (Everything)

  1. Listen to and RESPECT their feedback

So, this is where you actually have to become a GREAT leader and great leaders don’t act in a clandestine, threatening or tough manner. Their self-confidence and humbleness serves to underscore their toughness. Great leaders listen to their teams, and when they do, great ideas come from the exchange. Who knows, your execution plan or your company’s strategy may be slightly flawed based on what’s going on in the field—the real world.

I’ve experienced leaders that had new strategies they wanted to implement. Their approach to execution was to gather people in a room and fire down on them, not seeking any input from the people in the trenches. Review the blog referenced below if you have not had a chance.

I have also been blessed with some leadership examples of those that wanted to gain input and have a healthy exchange based on their ideas. It was always these leaders who prospered and built legacy teams. It was never the former. They were leaders only because it said so on their business card.

So, the bottom line is that people don’t follow the  PLAN, they follow the MAN…or WOMAN!

And you won’t be able to get them to line up and follow you if you don’t connect with them, telegraph the direction you want them to go in, and then listen to and respect what they have to say.

Last thing…

Don’t take my word for all of this.

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”

—John C. Maxwell

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Important Note: Joe Buzzello is launching the very first CAP Leadership Platform on February 18th. This is an exclusive 13-week program that requires only a small investment on your part, but will transform the way you think about leading salespeople. Joe’s CAP Leadership Platform will also give you access to multiple personal coaching sessions with him. Program access is limited to only the first 32 qualified registrants. For a one-page sheet with full details please send an email request to:

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