Early last week I was having a conversation with a client, who has been in a Sales Leadership role now for approximately 6 months. Tiffany (not her real name) has a successful background in direct sales, and this being her first foray into the wonderful world of people leadership, she commenced her journey filled with big ideas, tremendous enthusiasm and boundless energy. She had established a firm 90 day plan and set out to make an impact on her team and business quickly. Her first 90 days were impactful – she was tested constantly by her team and her customers, she implemented the majority of the components of her 90 day plan, and her learning curve was incredibly steep. She was relishing the challenge. By contrast, her next 90 days were somewhat of a let down. The lustre of the new role started to wear off, and whilst she continued to implement her new 90 day plan with vigour, she noticed that some of her peers appeared to be ‘coasting’, almost going with the flow, and her perception was that the senior leaders were allowing it to happen. As such, Tiffany shared with me a level of frustration that I hadn’t seen her express before. She was frustrated that her peers and her senior leaders appeared to be comfortable with okay results, even though they recognised that they could drive significantly better outcomes. And through this, she felt as though her energy was being sapped as her senior leaders appeared to be more focussed on the administrative side of the business and not the business development and people development side. Rather than investing her time in front of her customers with her people developing relationships, she was expected to complete multiple weekly reports and attend internal ‘management’ meetings where the focus was entirely on the performance of the team and the company, and not on the outcomes being delivered to the customers. In her frustration, she said to me ‘I’m starting to question why I chose to become a Sales Leader’. My response to her shocked her somewhat – I said “well, are you an average leader or do you want to be a trailblazer”?
If you are a current Sales Leader, I’ll ask you the same question – “are you an average leader or do you want to be a trailblazer”? Are you comfortable ‘fitting in’ with your leadership peers and doing just enough to deliver okay results, or are you better than that, and wanting to make an impact and leave an indelible mark on your customers, and the competition? What if there were new frontiers that were waiting to be discovered or entirely new worlds waiting to be uncovered in your market? What would the results of your team and your company look like if you chose to become a trailblazer?
So what is a trailblazer? The definition of a trailblazer is ‘a person who marks or prepares a trail through a forest or a field for other people to follow’. As a Sales Leader, the forest &/or field can be the market, the competition, and in some cases, even the customer environment. To become a trailblazer, you essentially become a pioneer, the person who is prepared to explore and discover new worlds and new frontiers, and create an environment that eventually becomes the ‘norm’. History is filled with men & women who blazed new trails, who were pioneers in numerous fields, whether it be medicine, transport, literature, and even selling. These trailblazers may have been considered as ‘rogues’ or a bit ‘left of centre’ when they were blazing trails, however, through their tenacity, resilience and persistence, they created and then lit a path for others to follow, and hence are remembered as great trailblazers. People such as Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates & Florence Nightingale, as well as countless others who may not have become famous, however they still blazed a trail for others to follow. So, as a Sales Leader, how can you become a trailblazer and create a path for others to follow? Here are some ideas to get you thinking :
- You must create a big vision. Trailblazers create a huge vision of the future they want and then set about creating it. What is your vision, for yourself, your team and your people? Create a vision so big that on the one hand it scares you, and on the other hand, it excites you more than anything else. And spend the necessary time to create the vision – do not rush it, and certainly do not ‘settle’ for a vision smaller than you believe is possible. Remember, a trailblazer prepares a trail that has never been prepared before, so take off the shackles, really challenge your thinking, think big, and create a huge vision.
- Develop an unrelenting commitment to the vision. Having created the massive vision, it is now time to commit to that vision, as well as to the action required to execute against the vision. The commitment cannot be ‘this is a nice to have’ – the commitment must be an uncompromising focus on whatever it takes to achieve the vision. It is a must. You must also commit to ensuring that you are able to support your team and your people through the actions required to achieve the vision. An unrelenting commitment to the vision also requires that you possess a very high trust in yourself.
- Bring innovation & ‘out of the box’ thinking. To be a trailblazer, you must be creative, and this sometimes dictates that you will need to action things and do things in a certain way, often outside of the ‘process’ or the rules that have been set. Challenge the status quo, look for innovative ways to do things differently, or do things in a completely new way. Remember, the trailblazers did not have a path to follow – they created a path, so even take ‘out of the box’ thinking to an entirely new level and imagine that there actually is no box at all. You literally have a clean canvas on which to create something – so create it!
- Take risks. No trailblazer or pioneer ever discovered a new frontier or new land without taking risks. They know that taking risks is an integral part of being a trailblazer, and they also know that it is their responsibility to identify and/or predict the consequences of the risks being taken. As a result they are prepared to take calculated risks, because they never want to die wondering! So as a trailblazer, be prepared to take calculated risks.
- Remove obstacles or burst through them. In preparing a trail through a forest or a field, you will inevitably come up against obstacles that are in your way. The trailblazer understands that obstacles are part and parcel of being a trailblazer and that to reach the new frontier, they must either remove the obstacles, go around them, or burst through them. Remember, nothing is worth achieving that isn’t worth fighting for, so expect obstacles, and find a way around them or through them. You will be paving the way for your people and teaching them patterns of behaviour that will allow them to become trailblazers as well – knowing that they can always find a way.
- Develop a deep understanding of your people. As you pave the way for your people, develop a deep understanding of what makes them tick, and what motivates them. Know that they will be watching your every move as you progress along the created path, and understand that if you are able to develop a deep understanding of your people, they will want to follow you. Even though the trailblazers are out front, blazing the new trail, the real purpose for them doing it is so that their people are able to follow that path to the new frontier. So ensure that you develop a deep and intimate understanding of your people and what makes them tick.
- It is not actually about you. The fascinating thing about trailblazers is that they blaze a trail to a new frontier or a new world, not for themselves, but for others. The path they create will be followed by others and will eventually become the ‘norm’, and yet the trailblazer will not seek the accolades for creating the path. They possess a level of humility that focuses the attention on the path and the newly created frontier or world, and not themselves. So as a trailblazer, remember, it is not about you!
After sharing the above points with Tiffany, her original enthusiasm and passion for the role resurfaced – she recognised that she was in a very unique position where she had the opportunity to become a trailblazer within her business environment, and has already set about creating a massive vision for herself and her team. If you find yourself in a similar situation as Tiffany, where you believe there is so much more that can be created and achieved, and yet you feel as though you are going with the flow, take the opportunity to become a trailblazer. You will create and light up the path for others to follow, and just maybe, your commitment and action to be a trailblazer will be spoken about for generations to come.
Be a leadership trailblazer!
Are you seeking to increase your influence? Click this link to download a FREE copy of my eBook “Lead With Influence – The 7 Strategic Keys to Unleash Your Sales Leadership Potential”.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter or Facebook.
About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.