Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography
By Dr. Clinton O. Longenecker, Stranahan Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Excellence, The University of Toledo
Wherever I travel these days everyone is talking about leadership! And it doesn't matter what type of organization or industry or organizational level. Leadership is the hottest topic in organizational America. And for good reason, as leadership has been shown empirically to have a direct impact on such key organizational performance variables productivity, teamwork, employee development, problem solving, effective organizational change, creativity, and yes, sales revenue just to mention a few.
There's lots of definitions for the word leadership but I like this one: “a leader is someone who makes positive things happen and gets results with and through people!” So as a person who studies leadership for a living here is an important question for you: “Who is the best sales leader that you’ve ever worked for during your career and what was it that made this leader so great?”
Let’s compare your list with the research findings from one of my recent research studies of over 500 managers answered the same question and identify the attributes of great leaders with whom they had worked with during their careers. Our analysis of their responses revealed some very strong and important findings about what makes a great leader in the 21st century so, here’s what we learned in this study.
The best leaders are mission and results-driven: Great leaders realize that the first and most important job of any leader is to create focus and a clear sense of purpose for their people. Great leaders create a vision that their followers know, understand, and can believe in whether it business, a community agency or a government enterprise. This clear “mission mindset” creates an overarching sense of "this is who we are and where we are going” which is absolutely a critical step in being a great leader!
Great Leaders translate that mission into clear performance expectations for their people. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is the practice of clarifying individual performance responsibilities and expectations. As simple as it may sound, leaders receive great praise, and even adulation, for the modest act of letting their people know exactly what is expected of them. In our rapidly changing workplaces, it is incumbent that leaders take the time, effort, and energy to keep each employee properly focused on their roles, responsibilities, and goals. And equally as important, it's critical to let people know what is not part of their value-added job.
The best leaders make people their priority: Great leaders have the ability and desire to balance concern for task and getting things done with great concern for their people. The best leaders know how to “personally connect” with the individuals they are responsible for leading in ways that build strong relationships, commitment, motivation, and engagement. Great leaders are all about bringing out the best in people and building relationships and networks that can help them deliver results! Great leaders tend to be emotionally intelligent and possess the ability to personally connect with people wherever they go!
The best leaders build teams and foster cooperation: Great leaders are recognized for their prowess in knowing how to get others to “come together,” "cooperate," "collaborate," "pull together," join forces," “unite,” and “work as a team.” While many leaders talk about teamwork, the best leaders know how to create and nurture teamwork and they take the necessary actions do so. You see great leaders know that teamwork and cooperation generally doesn't take place on its own! They realize that their actions can have a profound effect on bringing people together and helping them achieve things that they could not otherwise do as individuals! Oh and by the way, we all know how critical this is to running a successful sales organization!
Now, it is important to note that great leaders develop themselves and the people around them: Great leaders were described as possessing the “requisite skills and talents to effectively meet the ongoing demands and challenges of their job.” Great leaders have the competency, capability, know-how, and skill to perform their important work. And they take their personal and professional development very seriously! So great leaders tend to place a high value on lifelong learning and engaging in specific activities that allow them to learn, grow, and develop as professionals regardless of their career status. The best leaders also have a penchant for investing time, energy, and effort in helping the people that work for them reach their full potential. You see, great leaders are almost always great coaches and they make coaching a real priority in both their focus and allocation of the scarce time resource.
Great leaders prepare for battle and streamline operations: The best leaders frequently receive a great acclaim for “properly equipping and preparing their people for success.” These leaders take the time to plan and effectively communicate what is coming so people can prepare! These same leaders take the time and expend the necessary energy and resources to ensure their people are properly equipped with the tools, technology, and training that they need to be successful. And these leaders have the habit of making it easier for people to get their work done by rapid problem-solving, ongoing process improvement activity, and quickly remove any performance barriers. In great leaders also use their creativity and problem solving abilities to find new and innovative ways to improve performance!
And the very best leaders are known for their integrity and transparency: Great leaders are consistently described as having “character,” “integrity,” “honesty,” “truthfulness,” and “being ethical.” These leaders are trustworthy and demonstrate “principled behavior” even when no one is watching and their word is gold.” And to support this position our research has consistently shown that we all want to follow and work for people that we can respect and look up to whether it’s the CEO of our company or immediate supervisor. You see in the end, a leader’s trustworthiness is a powerful determinant of how closely a group of people will be willing to follow their boss!
And it is important to note that great leaders use time wisely and try to create work life balance: One of the more provocative findings of our research was that our sample of great leaders were credited with operating in a fashion that helped them create and maintain a work-life balance for themselves despite their exceptionally demanding positions. The very best leaders work hard to maintain this “tight rope” balance and also encouraged the people that work for them to do the same. They work to avoid burnout and engage in workplace behaviors that are sustainable over time! And, while everyone is busy the real question is busy doing what? Great leaders are great time stewards and they work very hard to allocate their time to activities that will give them the biggest bang for the buck! And if an activity is found to be a waste of time, they are generally quick to either disengage or remove the activity from their workplace agenda!
And finally, great leaders bring passion and mojo to whatever they do; Great leaders demonstrate “passion,” “energy,” “excitement,” “enthusiasm,” “gusto,” and “mojo” for what they are doing. These leaders go about their business in a highly motivated fashion with great vitality that creates great energy, momentum, and drive for the people that follow them. And this passion and mojo is a competitive advantage when combined with these other important qualities!
So, how does your description of a great leader in your life compare? How does your current boss stack up? And more importantly, how do you stack up as a sales leader in engaging in these critically important leadership practices? Is there anything stopping you from developing and executing your plan for becoming a better, more effective, and even, great leader at a time when most organizations need all the great leaders they can get! Listen, learn, and lead with intent!