This week saw one of my clients experience some upheaval in the team, resulting in a couple of key members exiting the business. This was somewhat of a shock for my client as she believed that she had created a great team environment where everyone was happy. They seemed engaged, and for the most part, they were successful, overachieving their sales targets just about every month. Why then, she asked, did 2 of her better performers choose to exit the team in search of better opportunities?
She had invested time into both of them, and whilst she did not spend as much time coaching them as she did some of her other team members, she believed they were loyal, focused and a key part of the team’s culture. When she analysed the events leading up to the 2 team members leaving, it became clear that there were a number of situations or little events that took place, to which the leader did not either handle effectively, or in 1 case, glossed over entirely. The realisation that my client had was how critically important leadership standards are, and when they are not implemented or followed religiously, the consequences can be quite shocking.
For my client, it was a shock to her system when she realised that the consequences of her actions/non actions was the 2 people exiting the team. As we delved deeper though, the 2 people leaving the team was actually a blessing, as it created an opportunity for her to recalibrate and re-instil the leadership standards which would underpin the team’s long term success. It turned out that the 2 team members had been waging a 2 person war, always seeking to place themselves above the other, criticising each other, and making accusations about each other. The leader, my client, wanting to be seen as taking each of the team members seriously and maintaining objectivity, would advise each of them that she would look into the accusations and ‘keep an eye out’ for improper practice. Having been a peer of these team members also created a challenge for my client as she was friends with both of them and had a deep seated desire to want to be liked as a leader, and as a person.
Unfortunately though, she placed that desire before the standards that she had set as a leader, and the consequences were inevitable. As we analysed the events, there were a few key learnings that came out of it, which only reinforced why leadership standards must be uncompromising:
- The Standard Must Be Clear & Easy To Understand – my client realised that a few of her standards were somewhat ambiguous and therefore susceptible to not being followed. She recognised that for a standard to be effective, it must be crystal clear, easy to identify and not difficult to do. And with no conditions or strings attached. If the standard is Commitment To Excellence (which is a great standard), the critical aspect to this standard is to define what excellence is, what it looks like, what it isn’t, so that there are no doubts as to what the standard is. It is also important to identify what ‘commitment’ means as well. Is it commitment all the time, some of the time, between certain hours, or in certain circumstances? Sounds obvious, however, many people have different definitions of commitment – make yours specific and stick to it.
- When A Standard Is Implemented, You Must Uphold It – my client realised that her standards slipped when it came to dealing with these 2 team members, resulting in the standard being compromised, and hence, a new standard being set – that of ‘she doesn’t uphold this standard, therefore it is not important’. What my client didn’t realise, by not upholding a standard, other members of the team observed the standard not being upheld, which meant that they formed the impression that the standard was not important, and hence my clients leadership reputation and credibility was reduced. The big lesson here was that once a standard has been put in place, it must be adhered to, all the time, without exception!
- It Is Important To Be Disassociated – my client understood that, based on her relationship with the 2 team members, she was ‘too close’ to the situation and hence she found it difficult to maintain an objective perspective. I explained to her that, in order to be an effective leader, particularly when it comes to handling challenges and conflict, the more disassociated you are from the situation, often the easier it becomes to find a solution. I shared with her a metaphor of being in a movie theatre, where on the screen, a movie is being played of the challenges or situation. When you are sitting in the theatre, watching the movie on the screen, you are somewhat disassociated, able to see a wide perspective. However, what if you were sitting in the booth at the back of the theatre, looking over the entire theatre, and you could see yourself sitting in the theatre, watching yourself watch the movie on the screen? You have a much wider and disassociated perspective, meaning that you can see all the moving parts, you are less emotionally involved, and can therefore make more objective decisions. This was a lightbulb moment for my client as she suddenly realised that she was spending too much time being in the movie, rather than viewing the movie from a distance.
- Remove The Word “I” From Your Vocabulary When It Comes To Feedback – this was a big one for my client. she realised that her standard when it came to providing feedback was to lead with comments such as ‘I believe this….’ or ‘I think that….’. At the end of the day, her people don’t care what she thinks, and as soon as the word ‘I’ comes into the feedback loop, opinion and possibility of judgement comes in, and objectivity goes out. She thought she was doing the right thing by offering her views, where what she should have been doing is providing feedback based on observation and sharing insights on possible impacts of behaviour, and asking questions.
As I’ve said many times before, leadership is not easy and is certainly not for the faint hearted. It is therefore absolutely critical that you are able to stack the odds in your favour and ensure that your leadership standards are not only crystal clear, but they are implemented and acted on all the time, without exception. This is what build leadership credibility, it builds consistency, and will ultimately lead to sustainable sales and revenue results.
To your continued sales leadership success.
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Darren specialises in working with Sales Leaders to create, implement & embed a sales leadership game plan that will deliver outstanding and sustainable sales & revenue results. He is also the founder of the Australian Sales Leadership Network, a LinkedIn Group for sales leaders to share insights, strategies, resources and best practices, in order to build high quality, engaged and successful sales teams, delivering profitable and sustainable sales results. To apply to join, please click this link.