While public comments on my last post were pretty positive, I did get some constructive criticism privately - primarily from sales managers who thought I was adding my voice to the old "manager vs. leader" chorus. While I contend my post was different, as I offered some concrete examples of how to change and lead a sales team in the modern era, I am COMPLETELY familiar with what most of the criticism was leveled at: that I was signing along with the chorus of the old MANAGER vs LEADER song.
You know the tune - it's the one who's lyrics are "you are a leader/so lead your people instead of manage them/look at my motivational poster with a kitten in it/but don't forget your TPS reports/doo bee doo bee doo."
So I understand the level of "manager vs. leader" fatigue most sales managers are experiencing now. And I understand that reaction to my post.
For what it's worth. let me give you my take on this "leadership" thing: If you look at Amazon, the number of titles associated with leadership, as of April 13th 2015, are:
It seems everybody has some ideas on how to become a leader; or transform managers to leaders; or how to spot a bad leader; or how to go from a good manager to a great leader; or how to turn bad managers into good leaders; or the 12 signs that your bad manager is about to marry a bad leader....etc...
Most of these books invariably include a laundry list of what I am doing wrong as a leader and how to change my behavior to empower my people to become leaders. Here are just some of the insights I gleaned from the reviews of some of those 133,243 titles:
- Leaders have people follow them while managers have people who work for them.
- A leader who lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time.
- The leader innovates whereas the manager administers.
- The man who passes sentence should swing the sword
Whoops, I think that last one was from Game of Thrones. Anyways you get the point. We are horrible at our jobs and it's all our fault numbers are down because we are bad leaders.
Well, nuts. That's my take. Nuts to all 133,243 titles.
Why do I feel that way? Because as sales managers most of us live in a world where everyone is asking us to be leader but requiring us to be a manager.
What does that mean? Well - has any sales leader out there ever had this kind of day?
- in the parking lot, you glance at your phone - you get an email that details your team's sales stack rankings, with twelve questions as to "why this?" and "why that?" and then requests an update to your forecast that was "below expectations."
- walking into the office, you get an email from a sales rep stating that the sale that allowed you to barely make your team number last quarter is in jeopardy of reversal as the delivery team has dropped that ball. The rep asks you to fly out to the client personally to eat crow.
- while leaving a VM for the sales rep above, a meeting request comes from the division VP to discuss "why our activities are so low" and "how we can energize our forecasts to meet the gap in closings." It's a daylong meeting that's scheduled five days from now - there are four spreadsheets attached to the meeting request. Oh, and you're being asked to fly out in person. And it's the same day as the request from your rep, btw.
- Hoping to catch your breath, you get ready to meet with your top sales rep. Preparing for the 1:1 you notice their calendar has a lot of Private Meetings on it - which either means they are plotting to overthrow the government OR they are interviewing with the competition. You are hoping for the former.
- You check your voice-mail and there are three calls from HR (nothing more needs to be said, as if a call from HR is ever good news)
- Finally some good news! You look at the clock and it's 8am and the workday has started! Time to be a leader!
Not a lot of leadership empowerment there.
Sales managers - I get it. Many of us work in organizations where we are asked daily to be leaders. And these same organizations - from top to bottom (as well as the left and right) - require us to administratively manage, firefight and move deckchairs every single day.
So do we just give up? How do we become the leaders we want to be while working within an environment that forces us to be managers? Well here is the answer:
I don't know, I'm working on it.
You see, my own path is a work in progress. I work for a great company for some great people and that helps, but at the end of the day we all have to manage and administrate much more than we'd want or like to. So if you came here for all the answers, you're in the wrong place.
Maybe you should buy one of those books at Amazon.
But here is what I can offer - my experience and the insight I've gathered from it - and if you find value in that, hopefully that will help you blaze your own trail from manager to leader. Or at least start a conversation.
Here are three observations that I try (and the operative word is "try") to remember daily. Hopefully, these provide you a little insight - or at least let you know you're not alone - and on that note:
Observation 1 - I am not alone: In the movie "Thirteen Days" about the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet diplomat tells Bobby Kennedy "You're a good man; your brother is a good man. I assure you there are other good men. Let us hope the will of good men is enough to counter the terrible strength of this thing that was put in motion." Now, not to be overly dramatic - I know as sales leaders we're not dealing with Soviet Missiles in Cuba or Nuclear Annihilation. But I believe we do often deal with what we believe are unrealistic or unattainable expectations foisted upon us by the organizations we work for. If you're a sales leader and you believe you've never been given an unrealistic number or expectation to meet, please either send me an employment application or ask your doctor to up your medication.
The point is this - there are good people within the sales leadership community (and even in your own SLT) that know what you are going through. Talking to them, reading their blogs - interacting with them - is the best way to figure out that you are not the crazy one. Sharing experiences will work wonders for your outlook. Additionally, by reaching out to people who, like you, are striving to be great sales leaders, you may learn a best practice or real world coping mechanism (besides bourbon) to help you traverse the perilous path called "sales leadership."
Observation 2 - Pass the Grain of Salt: a bunch of years ago I worked for a company with a crazy reimbursement policy. And by crazy I mean incredibly and unnecessarily laborious for the rep to complete to get his/her expenses paid. Every single rep and sale manager hated the procedure. Reps complained all the time. And my sales manager would often talk about how it was "important that the company do it this way because..." and then offer the regurgitated accounting department line on why 2+2=5.
Then I got a different sales manager. He told his team (and I'm paraphrasing as I didn't record the conversation) "Yeah, this is stupid and idiotic, but so are other things in life that we have to do. I can't promise this will ever change - but I'm not going to lie to you, it's horrible. But we have to do it to get our expenses paid, so either we let it get to us, or we just do it and move on."
While I never liked the process, I never complained about it after that. And when I ran across reps who did, I repeated (and believed) what my manager told me. I looked at this manager differently - I looked at him as a leader. Not because he changed something or innovated our expense process. But because he was honest with me when he didn't really have to be.
We have all worked in organizations where there are policies, procedures or people that make our jobs more difficult. And I don't think I'm going out on a limb stating that we have all said things in sales meetings or training or other official capacities as "leaders" that we didn't quite agree with but we were good soldiers and toed the company line. But there are moments when the pill to swallow is just a little too large and though you've tried your best to grin and bare it...you have to be honest with your team and call it like everyone sees it. But what happens when there are times when honesty isn't enough....
Observation 3 - Sometimes you have to fight - As sales professionals, we often think in terms of value, cost and worth. Value is the usefulness or desirability of something. Cost is what I have to give up to get something and Worth is basically a future appraisal - speculating about the value of something in the future when you remove what it cost you. As a sales leader, in any conflict within your organization, it's important for us to think long term - Worth.
This can be obvious - the momentary Value of you telling your VP of Sales they are full of soda crackers when they give you the old "You have to increase activity" speech vs. the Cost of your emptying your desk and losing your job does not show true Worth in your bank account. So understand, I am not asking anyone to throw themselves in front of the juggernaut. But at the end of the day there are some things for which you have to be WILLING to fight against. Or fight for. Or at least resist.
Example - years ago, as a sales rep I worked for a company that had a micro-management forecast practice - this is where top SLT leadership would jump over first line sales managers as the end of month got closer and schedule impromptu 1:1s with reps. These meetings, some over two hours in length, would examine the intricacies of each individual opportunity in the 180 day pipeline. And when I mean "intricacies" I mean going over, line item by line item, the individual solutions that were being proposed to the client. The senior leaders would then insert themselves in the communication channel between the rep and customer - going so far as to have every email that the rep was writing to the customer to first come across the SLT's desktop in order to "help" the rep close the sales process more effectively. In some instances, they took the sales process over themselves. (Do I have to write about the horror show of bad will and frustration this caused for the reps and the relationship with their sales managers? No? Ok, I'll move on...)
My sales manager was one that pushed back. On his team, he fought to keep his team out of this micro-management cycle. He pushed back against the SLT, to his own detriment, as he was required to endure marathon meetings with the SLT in lieu of the SLT reaching out to his team. While he was my manager, my 1:1s never lasted more than 45 minutes and they were always with him. Knowing I wasn't being subjected to the "best practice" reps to the left and right of me were, I provided him stellar pipelines and "good as gold" forecasts.
Breaking this down: this manager found Value in treating me like an adult - what it Cost him were arguments and stress banging up against Senior management. Over time, the Worth of this strategy was proven out - with his hand-picked sales team led the company quarter after quarter.
So to sales managers out there - I hope this post shows you I do understand the environment we live in daily. I understand the mixed messages we get 360 degrees around us - be a leader, please manage this, lead us here, manage this there....they are difficult if not impossible to deal with sometimes.
But to borrow a line – we are the change we've been waiting for. If you have ideas, best practices or believe I am full of horse hockey – let me know!
I’m smart enough to know I don’t have all the answers – how are you trying to be a leader in the in a world that says they want leaders, but are requiring you to concentrate on managing?
And remember – you are not alone.
And for those keeping track, since I started writing this post, Amazon now has 133,329 titles about leadership for you to read.
Yippie! Isn't great to know there are so many experts out there?