Tag Archives: leadership

Leadership: do not panic as your technical skills are surpassed!

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It passed by without me noticing it, but it now has been two years since I was given the responsibility to take the lead in the troubled Bratislava office.

I have recruited all but one of the people I have trusted to develop our sales. They all have made tremendous progress as I watch the month of February come to an end with a new record and an outstanding month of January.

I am beginning to work with people who know more things than me on the technical level however: they understand better how the tools work, they know where the switch for changing this setting or this setting is, they know the power output of the nozzles and can assess on the power of the previous customer installation…I fold as their concrete experience has grown and turned them into skilled sales technicians.

Smoking a cigar at home the other day, I wondered how someone like me needs to envision the coming months or years to keep the organization tidy, functional, and successful as my output no longer includes higher technical knowledge or experience.

In general, the manager needs to bring something more to the table than simply a more detailed knowledge, or info, or capacity to do a higher discount.

Here is how I prepare my complimentary cocktail:

1) I stand by the company and my upper management any minute even when I disagree with their paths. Once something is decided, it needs to be applied. I explain and we go ahead. Playing any other game might make you sympathetic to your team when the decision taken is unpopular but it does not help leadership at all. On the contrary, you look like a “loser”.

2) I take decisions quickly and explain my reasons to the team member when a situation arises. I take full responsibility for it and should it be a mistake or should that decision be challenged by my upper-management, well so be it. Once I am convinced, my team can take my decision to the bank.

3) I encourage personal responsibility and return many of their requests to their own personal judgment.

4) I encourage them to review the situations they are in from a different perspective and share experiences I have had in the past. I tell many anecdotes of my work experience, of my business relationships, of my personal readings and research and my “gut feeling”. In short, I try to help them see things through a “people” perspective.

5) I am not afraid to keep my rules valid. It is not because a salesperson starts to be successful that that person can play outside the rules of the firm. You still come on time, you still help out your colleagues, pick up the phone, take down the bin to the container (and I do so myself as to set an example) and there is no eating in the office outside of break hours. Actually for the last one, I wish that was 100% true, but I still have to raise my voice.

There are no guarantees in this business, and you can always be challenged. Perhaps one last thing I see important might be discutable. I work with the opinion leaders of the team and always try to have them as ambassadors and help them understand the reasons of doing what we do. More generally, it is important to listen to each and every one. As a sales manager, you are still selling them the motivation to do their job well, the promising rewards of personal and permanent self-improvement, and the potential enjoyment of working with you and their colleagues. And we all know selling is listening first.

In one word, perhaps one of the pillars of leadership is to demonstrate you care: you care about the company and you care about the people you work with and you want the best for both. And you demonstrate that every day, with your own personality, your own life experience, and your own dreams.

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Involvement requires taking a chance every day

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One of the skills involved pointed out in management is “involvement”.

For me, that latter skill translates as not being afraid to take a risk.
If you get involved in the work of your team, your opinion, your explanations and your advice all become material and are put to the test. If it works, you win, if it does not…you lose. But you do not lose as much as if you had not taken that chance.

One of the deeper impressions your management should project is credibility.

When I started out, I viewed credibility mainly as proving to those I managed that I was capable of doing the same things they were. I personally remember my first 3 months of managing among other people a salesperson over thirty years my elder who had total disrespect for me. I got my lucky break by being able to do a sale he had described me as impossible an hour earlier. And he begged me to put the sale on his salesperson code as one of the products sold came with a hefty bonus. From that day on, I told him how it was going to be.

Perhaps that is one of the original aspects of the quest for credibility: you cannot learn it, you can only seize it.

With time, your management position might go up and even if that does not happen, the needs and expectations of the team members grow as fast as their skills. They require new input, require new motivational goals, and require understanding better their point in the overall organization.

This year, as I am starting my third year on full time with swepro, I know that there will be new challenges for me just as for my team. From one company with one employee (I fired three a couple of weeks after my arrival), we now have three companies on the Central European market with ten salespeople introducing products beforehand unknown to this region. We are profitable on our older operations (Slovakia and Czech Republic), although much still needs to be done to reach the profitability we enjoy in competitive markets such as Germany where our products reduce production costs.

My personal objective is not to lose the edge over the technical aspect of selling. There is still a lot to do regarding the basic sales skills. We will work on reformulation and better reaction to objections. But with those that are the most ahead, the challenge will be to improve our strategic approach with our customers: managing time better, mapping the firms not forgetting people, processes and potential.

January has always been the month where I sometimes started smoking again. Because there is always a little stress factor taking a look at the challenges of the coming year. And evidently the risks that need to be taken from getting involved in the work of the team.

I hope they will look up to me. And they will if they know that I put what I tell them on the line and that I test it in real life.

In short, it takes energy not to retreat behind a computer and manage the daily issues. But there’s no other way than jumping in and sharing what you know, and sharing your vision even if it requires you to be occasionally wrong.

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