8 Reasons Leadership Means Selling

I was recently presented with an interesting challenge. In a more or less routine process of regular performance evaluation I found myself in strong disagreement with one of my peers about a success of a project. We were looking at the same data, heard the same feedback from the same participants, and still, we came to completely different conclusions. I was responsible for the project and believed it was a success, the other person had only high-level picture and felt it was a failure.

It made me think. Obviously, something was wrong. After considering it carefully, I came to a conclusion that even though the project actually was successful, I still failed as a leader. I underestimated the importance of selling. I even didn’t realize that this peer of mine was someone I needed to sell the idea to.

Leadership is about selling. Daniel Pink, in his book To Sell Is Human, claims that “people are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling—persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of professions, we are devoting roughly twenty-four minutes of every hour to moving others.” That is a staggering amount of time and effort. And when you are in any management or leadership position you are definitely at the top end of the range. It is your job to persuade, to influence, to convince, to lead, to sell.

Let me first remove any negative connotation about the term “selling” as it related to leadership. You should always be selling stuff to others in effort to help them out, not to help yourself. Selling means asking others to part with some of their resources. It can be money, but not only. In leadership, it is mostly time, effort and attention. Daniel Pink is using a great example of a teacher. He requires the resources of his students. In their case it would be those mentioned above, time, effort, and attention and in return, he is selling them the idea that at the end of the lesson they will be better off because of the things they learn. The same applies to leadership. Selling in that context is not only required, but it is a highly positive endeavor benefiting the leader, the team, and the organization.

Selling a vision

One of the key responsibilities of any leader is to sell a vision. If you want your team to follow, you need to have two things. You need to have a team and you need to tell them where to go and why:

1. To rally the forces – very often you need to marshal significant forces to tackle a project. It might be people reporting to you, but often you need to sell the idea also to others outside the organization so they jump in and help you deliver the project.

2. To show direction – once you have the team to need to sell them the vision of the perfect outcome. Your team needs to have the same understanding as you have on where you are heading and what a successful outcome looks like.

Selling opinions

This one applies not only to leadership but also across the board to pretty much every single conversation you have with other people. If you want to be successful, credible and have an impact, you need to be able to sell opinions:

3. To build credibility – you need to be able to sell two things to build credibility. You need to sell your “technical” expertise, to show that you are an expert on a given topic, or that you at least know what you are talking about, and you need to sell your character. People need to see you as a trustworthy person. When they believe you can be trusted as a person and you know what you are doing, you will be credible.

4. To influence decisions – decisions are done by people who have the power to make those decisions. You can either complain about their bad decisions and feel like a victim, or you can accept the reality and proactively influence the decision before it is made. By selling your opinion to those who have the power to decide gives you the next best thing to making the decision yourself. You can influence the decision to get the outcome you want and to feel positive that your voice was heard. You may even feel like it wasn’t your boss who made the decision but that it was “us” who made the decision.

Selling decisions

As opposed to previous point, sometimes you actually have the power to make decisions. However, even in this case you need to keep selling. Only because you make a decision to build a house, it doesn’t mean that a house will be built. You need to sell the decision to others to make it happen:

5. To get buy-in – this is somewhat similar to the first point about selling a vision. The distinction, at least in my mind, is the one of scope and audience. Sometimes you don’t need help of a particular individual so you don’t need to sell the vision but you just need to make sure they don’t stand in your way. Getting their buy-in is enough to make sure they don’t throw roadblocks in your way. You don’t need your neighborhoods to build your house, but you want to make sure they can live with the noise and mess the activity will cause so they don’t create legal obstacles.

6. To sell results – plans are nice, but execution is what matters. You need to be able to get things done and to sell the idea to others that the work indeed is done and everything is great. Too often, we focus so much on the details and the small things that go wrong that we forget to sell and celebrate our successes.

Selling services

Finally, you need to be able to sell your services even within your own company. You need to do it for two good reasons, to sell an image of someone who can lead and get things done, and to sell the idea that people should want to work with or for you:

7. To build image – it first glance it sounds like something that shouldn’t be necessary, but it is. We don’t live in a perfect world where it is obvious to everyone that you are a great leader. Unless you build an image of someone who can lead and get things done, no one will follow you. And what is as well important in case you want to advance your career, if you don’t sell your accomplishments and your ability to achieve even more, you may never get the opportunity to achieve anything.

8. To build relationships – chances are that whatever you do you need cooperation of others. By selling your services to them, you can get their cooperation in return. The best way to build good, long-lasting relationship is to care about others and to give without expecting anything in return. By selling your time, effort, attention, and care of others, you are buying a potential to receive the same in the future when you most need it. The human need to reciprocate is one of the most powerful ways to gain influence.

As you can see, selling is an important part of leadership. In case you are already in a position of power and you feel you don’t need to sell, let me remind you the example from the first paragraph of this article. The reason I failed as a leader was that I thought I don’t need to sell because the data will speak for itself. I felt secure and powerful and that perspective cost me. With little bit more humility and by reducing (at least in my mind) my power I could push myself into a selling mode and show to my peers why the project was a success and why she should buy the idea and adopt the same position. Alfred Fuller allegedly said, “Never argue. To win an argument is to lose a sale.” Luckily, I realized that, and instead of arguing or blaming others, I went back to my job as a leader. I started to sell.

 

What is your opinion about leadership and selling? Can you remember any examples from your life where you failed to sell and as a consequence you failed as a leader?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Be A Leader Not A People Pleaser

When you look around you can divide managers into several categories. You find some who truly adhere to the definition of leaders, have the vision for the team, are business people, with clear understanding of what needs to be done and doing it even when it is unpopular. Then you have those who abuse the management position, the jerks, who go after their personal goals regardless the costs. Finally, you have the people pleasers. Managers and leaders who subscribe to the notion that their main task is to make their teams happy because that will produce results, and make the manager popular.

What’s wrong with pleasing people

Happy people are productive people. That is probably true. Various studies has shown that happy people are more likely to be more productive than unhappy people. However, happiness is not the only path to strong company culture and high performing teams. In fact, I would argue that there are better ways to achieve great results than focusing on keeping people happy.

Happy people won’t leave. That is to some extent also true. Until the moment they stop being happy. The problem is with keeping people in the company by trying to make them happy with various perks, fancy office space, or not telling them the hard truth. This approach leads to creating a culture of entitlement. You are building no resiliency. The moment business doesn’t go as planned, and you need to do something that will make people unhappy (being it cutting the perks, giving no bonuses, or even reducing number of employees) you are pretty much done. These things are difficult even in cultures with resilient people and they will destroy the productivity of the team and atmosphere in culture of entitlement for months or even years to come.

I’m not advocating that you should keep your team miserable. Far from it. Numerous studies has shown that positive emotions invigorate people and lead to higher productivity. What I’m questioning is how you elicit these positive emotions. It is not by trying to please people. With pleasing people and the culture of entitlement, you are only a step away from doing something that will displease them, elicit negative emotions, and the productivity plummets.

How to be a leader and not a people pleaser

So if trying to please your team is not the right strategy to leadership, what is? Well, it is not about keeping your team happy, it is about making them feel valuable, respected, engaged and energized. How do you do that? How do you build a high-performing team of resilient people who don’t need to be constantly pleased by the world around them? By following couple of simple practices:

  1. Show direction – one of the key expectations from any leader is providing a vision. You need to be able to clearly state where is the organization heading and outline steps how you expect that it gets there. The best way of showing direction is not just by talking, but by leading the way. Leading by example is a must if you expect others to follow.
  2. Explain “why” – not only you need to explain direction, you also need to be constantly reminding people “why”. Only if the team understands where you want to go and why, they can help you to get there. Only by understanding “why” people can make sound decisions, and if they run into obstacles, they can overcome them the right way that gets the organization closer to fulfilling the vision.
  3. Keep the focus – help the team to keep focused on what matters. Too often managers instead of focusing their team on the top goals, create more and more distractions just for the sake of doing something. Yes, you could do these twenty things, but your job as a manager is to distil it down to just a couple with the highest impact, and then guard it with your life.
  4. Say “no” – learn to say “no” to things that are either not aligned with the ultimate goal, the business model, the organizational culture, or that maybe are aligned, but are not a priority. Saying and owning the “no” is one of the most important things you as a manager can do since it builds your credibility, it grows your influence, and it helps your team to be focused on the right things.
  5. Build ownership – you don’t need to give people equity in the company to create a sense of ownership. In fact, chances are that won’t work anyway since the stake in the company will be negligible for each individual. What you can give them is psychological ownership. They need to “feel” they “own” something, regardless whether it is true in the legal sense of the word. You can increase psychological ownership in couple of ways. Invest time and effort in training your team so they have the capability to own a piece of work, explain how their work contributes to the vision, state who owns what so you create clear responsibility and accountability lines, and finally don’t direct people but rather provide guidance and suggestions without enforcing your way of doing things.
  6. Treat them like adults – way too often we tend to treat our people like 5 years old kids. We spend lots of effort hiring the best and the brightest and then micromanage them in every single thing they do, or try to shield them from unpleasant truths. Treating people with respect is one of the key skills you need to have as a leader.
  7. Provide feedback – provide a clear, candid, well-meant feedback. You as a manager have a moral responsibility to make sure your team knows where they stand. Every single individual on your team should understand when he is doing well, when not, and what they need to work on to get better and grow.
  8. Help them grow – and I don’t mean giving your team some professional training. The one thing you can do is to identify what skills your team needs to develop to be better at their current and more importantly at their next job. By providing feedback, stretch goals, and building up their confidence and interest in learning you are not only helping them to do a better job but you are helping them to be a better human beings as a side effect.
  9. Promote hardship – nothing worthwhile doing is easy. This might be a cliché but it still rings true. If you want your team to feel great, they need to work on something hard. Setting the bar high, giving the team challenges that stretch their skills and abilities, and expecting hard work will ultimately lead to huge feeling of accomplishment and pride once the work is done. If someone on the team is underutilized, either by not tapping their abilities or by not using all their time, these people will be dissatisfied, will focus on the nonsense, complain about every small unimportant thing, work on stuff that is not important and ultimately leave the company at best, or destroy the team morale at worst.
  10. Make them proud – celebrating successes is a great way to show to the team that their work has a meaning. I don’t necessarily mean giving a big party. It is much more important to stop regularly, look back at what was accomplished, what the results of the hardship are, and make it clear that it is the team that made it happen. It is the team that changed lives of other people through delivering a product or providing a service. By doing this you make your team proud, they will feel a sense of purpose and ultimately increase a sense of ownership and focus on continuing to do a great job.

That’s it. It says nothing about making the team happy, pleasing them, or fulfilling all their wishes. Simple right? Simple, but obviously not easy. It is much easier to please than to lead. A good manager and a leader is able to build a culture where happiness is a by-product of doing a great work. You don’t need fancy office space, you don’t need free meals, cars, or other perks. The only thing you need so to make your team feel valued, respected and proud of their accomplishments.

 

What is your take on the topic? Do you feel that keeping people happy is important for them to deliver great results? Or do you feel there is a more powerful state in which people perform.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Don’t Treat Others As You Want To Be Treated

Since I was a kid I was told to treat others the way I wanted to be treated by them. It always felt like a great advice and a common wisdom worth following. And so I lived by this motto for a long time. Until I didn’t.

Common wisdom

The fallacy of this statement is in the assumption that we are all the same, have the same wants and needs. But we don’t. Each of us is different and only because I like something it doesn’t mean you will like it too. By treating you the way I want to be treated I’m forcing you to accept my world view and I don’t respect you as an individual.

For example, I’m a internally motivated introvert. I don’t need external praise. In fact, I feel very uncomfortable when I’m getting one and often don’t know what to say in response. I definitely don’t like being put on a pedestal to the spotlight and having songs sang in my name. Because of that mindset, I always struggled to praise other people in my team. I appreciate what they are doing, but I had to be reminded to express this so they know that I know. It just doesn’t come naturally to me because I don’t have the same need. However, some people really enjoy when you express your gratitude in words and in public. I know this and that means I shouldn’t treat them the way I want to be treated.

Let’s look at this scenario. Each of us has a different expectations from life. We have different needs and various stages of our lives. Because of my educational background, and my life journey I put huge emphasis of continuous education and believe that one should never stop learning to be better and better at his profession. I believe each of us should have it as one of the priorities in life. But guess what. I don’t have kids and if you do, chances are that your priority might be to give the best education possible not to yourself but to your kids. If I’m your manager and treat you the way I want to be treated I’m putting you to a position to choose between yourself and your kids. Ouch.

While the “treat others the way you want to be treated” maxim works reasonably well on the general level, for example, we all want to be treated fairly and with respect, it may not work that well when you get down to smaller more specific details.

Treating others the way they need to be treated

If you are in a leadership position, the next step in evolution is to realize that your job as a manager is to help your team grow. You need to treat your team the way they need to be treated. What I mean by that?

Let’s look at this example. You have a team member who is not doing a particularly good job. Since you like it when people are nice to you, and you want your team treat the same way, you will be nice to this person. You will try to give him feedback about his performance in a “nice” manner, avoid conflict, make sure he doesn’t feel bad. Chances are that you will be sugar coating your feedback so much that the person will never get the message. Did you help him? Not really. What that person needs is for you to be “brutally clear” with him about what he needs to work on to get better.

Treating others the way they want to be treated

And the final step? What about treating others not the way “you” want to be treated but the way “they” want to be treated? To be a good manager and a leader you should do you best to understand your people. You should understand what is important for them, and why it is important. You should know what they need, and why. You should also know what their life ambitions are and help them to reach these. Only when you know them, you know how they want to be treated and you can make your best effort to treat them that way. Why? If you do that, your team will know that you care and they will care back.

Now you can see that treating others the way you want to be treated is flawed. But is it really so useless? Not necessarily. It is a great thing to do when you meet someone for the first time. If you don’t know anything about other people then treating them the way you want to be treated is the best and least risky approach. Just keep in mind that your goal is to learn more about them and ultimately treat them the way they want to be treated.

 

What’s your take on the topic? Do you treat others as you want to be treated or as they want to be treated?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

7 Rules Of Proactive Leadership

Crisis. Panic. Urgency. These are some of the words with negative connotations that describe many organizations. We are in constant rush, trying to squeeze as much as possible from every minute. We spend increasing amount of time online, we multitask like crazy, can’t focus on anything in particular, and we are constantly reacting to the environment around us. We are reacting, instead of acting.

Definition of proactivity

It is one of the most frequent words in management. You hear it in your performance reviews, and you are probably using it yourself when giving feedback and trying to develop other people, “you need to be more proactive.” Proactivity or proactive behavior usually refers to self-initiated behavior that is anticipatory and often change oriented. It means that you are able to anticipate future needs and start acting on them already today, as opposed to waiting and reacting on them when they actually occur. It is about being in the control of the situation, rather than being controlled by it.

It makes sense. If you are able to prevent something bad from happening, it is of course preferable from waiting and then doing damage control after the fact. It is not only about preventing something harmful. The most common situations where proactivity pays of are in communication. Being able to defuse potentially heated conversation before it has a chance to escalate is the one most useful skill in working with people.

Choosing how to act

One of the great things evolution granted to human beings is our ability to imagine. We can create an entire world in our minds. We can imagine potential futures and prepare for it. We can even imagine several different outcomes, anticipate most likely outcomes and act pre-emptively to ensure the most favorable results.

However, this only works when we want to, when we care. It means that we are able to focus on a particular problem and think it through before plunging heedlessly into an action. At the other hand, we also need to be aware that even no action has consequences. Whether we chose to act or not, we should do it with full understanding that there will be consequences in either case.

“Proactivity is not only about anticipating the future and acting to shape it, it is also about us being able to choose our responses to external stimuli.“

Choosing how to respond

Proactivity means also something else. It is not only about how we act, but also how we chose to react and feel about an external stimuli. If you are a proactive person you will never get angry with, or depressed about something that happened and that was out of your control. You know that there are some things in this universe that you can’t influence and you made your peace with that fact.

Instead of brooding about the fact that life is not fair, you accept it and learn to live with it. It doesn’t bother you. When something bad happens, you are able to shrug it off and focus your attention on other things. You focus on what you can influence and what is under your control. You don’t react, but rather you chose how to respond. You also chose to feel good about the world around you even if it doesn’t comply with your wishes.

If you are a proactive person, you are not slave to environment but you live by your values. Environment is changing and can influence your moods and abilities like weather, but constant values provide immunity to changing environment and keep you sane and happy.

Rules to follow

To practice proactive leadership you should live by couple of basic rules:

  1. Live by values – understand what your core values are and live by them. They will be an anchor in difficult times, and a compass that will lead you around the troubles. You can’t be an effective leader without solid value system, understanding natural laws and having trustful relationships.
  2. See the big picture – never jump into conclusions or give in to biases before you understand the complete picture. Only because something appears in a certain way on the first look, it doesn’t mean that it is the truth. We see the world not as it is, but as we are and as we want it to be.
  3. Know your people – and by people I mean any stakeholders who are involved in a given situation or decision at hand. Only by understanding who the various parties are and what are their objectives you can judge the situation objectively and come up with the best possible solution.
  4. Anticipate problems – always consider consequences of your actions, inactions, words, and silence. You should be like a chess player who is looking couple of moves ahead to anticipate potential outcomes and planning the best strategy forward. But don’t over-analyze. Think two steps ahead, not hundred, otherwise you will never be able to move at all.
  5. Be transparent – be clear with the people around you on your objectives, your opinions, your values, and your likely actions. It will help others to anticipate your needs and reactions, and it will influence the way they act. By being transparent, you are increasing your sphere of influence and you are shaping the environment to your needs.
  6. Communicate effectively – it is about making sure your message is heard. It is not about being the loudest, the most chatty, or the fastest. In communication you shouldn’t try to be efficient, but rather to be effective. It may be easy to just send out an email to ten people and hope they will read it, only to be later on surprised and irritated that half of them didn’t get it and the other half understood it wrong. It would be less efficient, but more effective to talk to them over the phone and be sure they got the message and understood it the way you intended.
  7. Follow up – to make sure that whatever you planned actually happened. It is easy to set things in motion and hope for the best but without following up on the events you give up the opportunity to course correct and deal with unexpected situations. Following up is also important for getting to a closure, for celebrating wins, and learning for loses.

The one thing you should take away is that proactivity is not about being fast and always keep moving. It is not about urgency. It is about a mindset that keeps you firmly grounded in difficult times. It is about having strong values. It is about having ability to anticipate the future. Ultimately, it is about choosing how to respond to the world on your own terms.

 

What is your definition of proactive leadership? How do you cope with stress and craziness of management in today’s corporations?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.