One of the earliest lessons I learned in leadership was that your people are listening to everything you are saying and watching everything you are doing. And even more than that, they are listening to everything you don’t say and watching everything you don’t do. As such, as a leader, there really isn’t any ‘off’ switch – you have to be ‘on’ all of the time and ensure that you are consistent with your approach and attitude.
This is something that really resonated with me early on in my career as I observed other leaders in their environment and noticed how some leaders were able to create a massive and positive impact on their team and their environment, whilst other leaders didn’t seem to have the ability to make the same impact. It intrigued me as to why 2 leaders of what I considered to be of equal ability, were able to achieve completely different results. Originally I thought it came down to skill level, until I realised that both of them were highly skilled around sales and selling methodology, and yet their results were vastly different. Then I thought that perhaps the leader achieving higher results had the ‘better’ team, a more highly skilled team – until I realised that based on skill level alone, the leader getting the great results was leading the team with a lower level of skill. So what was it that made the difference. To my surprise at the time, the difference came down to character. The leader achieving the higher results had developed such a great leadership character that the team had evolved into performing like a well oiled machine – there was no animosity, there was no second guessing, everyone was on the same page, and their achievements and results were tangible evidence of that.
So how did this leader develop such a strong leadership character that allowed him to lead such a highly functional and successful team? What I discovered surprised me, as it wasn’t based on skill, which is what I had expected – it was more fundamental than that, and highly impactful :
- The leader had a very clear understanding of what he stood for. He knew exactly why he was in the role, and what success looked like. He understood that the number 1 key to success is to know your outcome, and as such, he spent a considerable amount of time planning and visualising what he wanted to achieve – interestingly not for himself though, but for his team. He knew that leadership, especially in sales, was about his people, and not about himself.
- Having clearly articulated what success looked like for his team, he then developed a strategic plan or blueprint as to how he could work with his team to achieve the successful outcome. He knew that anything worth achieving was worth fighting for, and in order to be prepared for a fight, he had to make sure he was well prepared in terms of strategies. He knew that no matter how well planned you are, Murphy’s Law can often strike, and sometimes kick you off track. So preparation was key, and contemplating multiple scenarios and consequences allowed the leader to be better prepared to handle a situation when Murphy struck.
- He then developed clearly defined standards of behaviour that he would expect from his team, key stakeholders of the team, senior executives, as well as customers. A big part of this was also defining standards of behaviour that he would commit to himself, which would be non-negotiable. He understood that all eyes would be on him, so he knew he had to ensure that his behaviour was consistent, as well as being predictable, so that he could establish a foundation for a successful team. A great example of this was punctuality – he believed that to be on time was to be late, and to be early, was to be on time. Hence he committed to being ‘early’ for all meetings, which set a great example for his team. What do you think the team started doing? that’s right – they started arriving early for meetings.
- He made a commitment to always under promise and over deliver. This was critical as he understood that he was always conditioning other people on how to deal with him, so when he made a commitment to do something, he committed to himself that he would complete it earlier than the commitment he made to the people. And non delivery was never an option. He knew, that as a leader, a great example must be set, and so his team and key stakeholders knew that the outcome would be always be delivered.
- Perhaps the biggest area he focussed on was doing ‘the right thing’, even when no one was watching. He totally believed that character was formed most when no one was watching, and so he was exceptionally disciplined in terms of his schedule and his activities, away from the day to day leading of his team. He made his own professional and personal development a major priority, and ensured that he spent a specific amount of time each and every day in developing his capability and his leadership. He also developed and committed to a ‘daily 5’ – 5 activities that he completed each and every day, that would underpin his development, and allow him the opportunity to be a better leader. He knew that many of his peers would not be doing these things, so he could differentiate himself from the crowd, and the benefits would flow on to his people.
If you are a sales leader or about to be promoted into a leadership position, understand that it takes a lot more than skill to become an effective leader. By focussing on developing your leadership character through considering and applying the above key points, you will have the opportunity to not only differentiate yourself against your peers, you will also create a very solid foundation and platform from which to lead a very successful and engaged team. Character can make the difference.
To your continued leadership success.
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Darren is a Sales Leadership and Sales Performance Coach, Facilitator & Speaker. He is an experienced and committed coach with a background of sales leadership success in large organisations. He applies a genuine focus to coaching and developing high performing sales leaders who are looking to unleash the potential of themselves and their teams.