Lessons on Leadership

Apr 12, 2018

I’ve been leading a sales team now for about eight months. It’s been a challenging, rewarding and exhilarating transition all wrapped into one. Simply put, I’m really grateful to be leading a team and building into these guys. I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned below as well as a story about one the guys on my team.

“Should I be there, it’s an executive meeting?”

“Absolutely, you should go. You own the relationship. You own the account. You should be there.”
This was a recent exchange with one of the guys I now have the fortune of leading. He’s been brokering some high-level meetings at one of his accounts. C-level. And he’s doing a bang up job bringing our executive team into the mix. If I had to sum it up, I’d say that we’re working on his ability to believe. Simple on paper or coming out of our mouths. Not so simple to act on and to exemplify consistently.

Joe showed up to that meeting and he’s starting to come into his own in brokering key conversations and navigating the internal and external workings of multi-million dollar business deals and partnerships.

I’ve known Joe for a long time – we started together at CCC many years ago (about 18 to be exact). I really didn’t know him well though, more surface stuff as colleagues. I’m getting to know him more and more each day and I like what I see more and more. He’s starting to believe. Joe was an elite athlete, a wrestler and football player. He still has that in him. He’s a grinder. He’s got some edges and he’ll be the first to tell you, he may not always come across as the smoothest guy in the room. That being said, Joe has a gift, just like everyone does. He has a gift in his ability to build deep trust and relationships. He’s also gifted at solving problems. He may not ever be the best writer or presenter and he knows that. That being said, we’re working on him being the best he can be in his strengths. He needed to be at that meeting because he’s the glue in the relationship. The conduit to trust between our organization and the client organization. That can’t be underestimated.

I’ve focused a lot on building trust with Joe. Really trying to understand what makes him tick. What sets him off. What drives him. He’s a family guy, I know that drives him immensely.

I recently talked about the Performance equation from “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey. Performance = Potential minus Interference (or P=P-I). I’ve shared this with Joe and I’ve told him that our job together is to help him reach his potential while at the same time, reducing his interference. We are focused on belief, working on higher-impact outcomes (aka More strategic stuff) and reducing things like self-doubt, working too much in the weeds and trying to solve every problem for everybody. Joe is a work in progress just like all of us. Joe is bought in and taking ownership. I love that about him and I’m excited about our collaboration as we go.

With that, I wanted to share the Leadership Lessons I’ve learned in the last eight months on the job. I’ve been fortunate to lead in other areas – sports, church, non-profit, family…but this is my first time managing a team in a sales/business capacity. The lessons have been plenty, and I’ve made it a point to continue to ask others for advice and to be focused on a learning mindset on a daily basis. I know I’m certainly a work in progress and I hope some of these lessons resonate with you and your teams.

On to the lessons:

Lead from the Heart – A good friend of mine, Shawn, is the CFO of a Fortune 1000 company. When I asked him about his leadership philosophy, this was the number one thing he said and it stuck with me. The people you lead are just that – People – and we need to treat them as human beings. Get to know them. Be curious. Know them personally. Trust will be built that way. Great advice from Shawn that really drives everything.

Adapt – New challenges and opportunities happen on a daily basis. I’ve learned that the ability to adapt is crucial. You need to expect challenges and embrace them.

Ask Questions – This is a work in progress for me for sure but even if you have the answer (or think you do) it’s often times better to ask your team. Get their take. Let them formulate a response. Don’t be so quick to solve the problem. Let them take part and drive it. Even if they aren’t doing it the “right” way or as quickly as you might, they will learn and feel a sense of satisfaction. Open-ended questions are so much better than closed questions. Instead of asking “Do you think X or Y?” ask “What do you think about X or Y?”

Build Vision – It’s a leader’s job to articulate the vision of the team and to help the individual “player” determine what their vision is as well. I recently wrote out a vision of our team meeting together at the airport in a year at our annual Chairmen’s Club. I described the year behind us as if it already happened and what transpired. Much of this won’t happen like I described it but knowing that vision and getting it on paper is very important. I encourage you to try that. Looking back 1 year from today, can you articulate what “success” looks like to you for your team, your family, yourself? Very important exercise.

Culture is Consistency – Lots of people talk about culture but really culture comes down to what you do consistently. It’s who you are and what you do on a moment to moment basis. If you want to build a culture of trust, are you exemplifying that in your behavior every single day? In every conversation? One of the guys on my team can get defensive. He’s had some experiences it the past where he hasn’t trusted his leader. His default seems to be not trusting. So, we’re building that on a daily basis and I’m trying to show him that I’m in his corner despite challenges or setbacks.

Focus on Mindset – If you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset”, I highly recommend it. It comes down to this – either you have Fixed Mindset where you don’t adapt, grow and improve or you have a Growth Mindset where you’re consistently adapting, taking ownership and growing. I have a lot of conversations with the team on this. The guys at Focus 3 talk a lot about Mindset and they do a great job. Check them out if you want to learn more.

Embrace Imperfection – Production is never perfect and linear. You will have setbacks and bad days, so will your team. The quicker you can respond and keep moving forward, the better things will go. Perfection is a myth. Striving for reaching potential is what’s most important.

The Score Takes Care of Itself – I recently read Bill Walsh’s book on Leadership, “The Score Takes Care of Itself” – another highly recommended book (thanks to Ryan Holiday for the recommendation). The book oozes with Walsh’s philosophy on a building a Standard of Excellence and his focus on doing the little things right and the process. Ultimately, if you do those in an excellent way, the score will happen. And, the great lesson here is that if you take care of your own business and have this consistent standard of excellence, and you still fall short, can you look yourself in the mirror and know you gave your best effort? If so, be good with that. You won’t win every game.

Continuous Improvement – James Clear gave a great talk on this – getting 1% better everyday. If you focus on consistent improvement, great things will happen. I’ve encouraged my team and live this myself – read every day, observe others, ask questions. Having a Learner’s Mindset is crucial.

Leadership isn’t a title – One of my clients has a great image hanging on his wall. It’s two different depictions – the first is a “boss” yelling at his team to get to work. The second is a “leader” leading the way and pulling his team with him. Be a leader who comes alongside his or her team and thinks of it as a true partnership to achieve something. Just because you have a title doesn’t mean you have it all figured out or are better than anyone else.

Stay Humble – The last one leads to this one. Humility is one of the greatest virtues there are. Confidence is fine, but cockiness is bad. Your ability to stay humble and think of others first is paramount to sustained performance and building trust.

Do the Work – I’m fortunate that I have two great leaders above me. They exemplify what leading and building culture is all about. They’ve been tremendous for me to learn from and to try and emulate. Both of these guys talk about one simple fact – you need to grind and get stuff done. It’s many times not easy but we need to constantly focus on doing the work to make it happen.

Build Belief – As leaders it’s our opportunity and our duty to build belief into our teams. This goes for any “team”. I’m talking about families, sports teams, classrooms, business teams, non-profit teams, etc. Whatever team you find yourself leading, building belief such a crucial aspect to optimizing performance and potential.

I’m super grateful for the opportunity to lead this team. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve stumbled at times. I know I will continue to learn, continue to experience setbacks and continue to evolve. As a leader, I know that focusing on some of these core principles should lead to a high-performance culture, solid results and meaningful relationships. I hope these words have added value to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and any additional insight you might have. Don’t hesitate to reach out.


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