Many mentors (and mentees) resist asking an all-important question about the sales leader’s role: “Where are things most likely to go wrong?” And the answer is: “Wherever people are assuming that they already have all the answers.”
No one has a clear path to the promised land. There are always pitfalls and roadblocks in the way for anyone aspiring to fulfill their true potential within a given role, especially for someone aspiring to a leadership position. So you need to be very clear about this dynamic up front: You will fail.
That is the only path to learning and the only path to mastery. If you imagine you are a superhero, or try to act as though that’s who you are—the person with all the right answers, all the time—then you will let other people down, you will let yourself down, and you won’t learn what you need to learn. Eventually, you’ll talk yourself into staying inside your comfort zone by continuing to repeat, out of fear, whatever sort of went OK yesterday.
The question is, will you learn from the failure and persevere? The only real failure is if you do nothing or give up trying.
This is the first and potentially most dangerous misconception that afflicts emerging sales leaders. The misconception sounds like this: You are strong and effective as a leader to the degree that you persuade others (or yourself) that you do not or cannot make mistakes. This belief is what leads many aspiring sales leaders to micromanage, and micromanaging sinks sales leadership careers.
Over the years, I have spoken to a lot of successful sales leaders. I often ask them what they consider the biggest mistake they made early in their leadership career. Many of them describe a mindset I call “the super salesperson.” New leaders, especially those who excelled as sales contributors, often believe themselves invincible and assume they need to rescue everyone and everything. They may feel the need to demonstrate their awesomeness at every turn and prove to everyone in the organization just why they were chosen for this job over other people.
This is the thinking: “Two days ago, I was a peer; now I am the boss, so I had better prove to everyone that I really do belong here.” This way of thinking is a recipe for micromanagement, and a serious mistake.
Here’s a timeless story: A new manager gets called into the office of the VP, who doesn’t look happy. The VP says, “Sit down. Look, you were a great salesperson, right?”
“Yes,” says the new manager, flashing a proud little smile.
“And why was that?” asks the VP.
The new manager shrugs and says, “I give up. Why was that?”
“Because I stayed out of your [stuff].” (Actually, the veep uses another word than “stuff,” but you get the idea.)
The new manager’s smile slowly fades away.
“Here’s the moral of the story,” the VP says. “Stay out of your people’s [stuff].”
And with that, the new manager left the room, pondering those words of wisdom.
What did that VP mean? Basically, staying out of people’s stuff means letting them drive their own car. Every once in a great while, you might want to point out a shortcut or a cool restaurant they could visit along the way—but don’t yank the wheel away from them while they’re driving. That’s dangerous. It can create resentment, or, even worse, a culture of learned helplessness. Either will lead to a downward team spiral—and a crash. That’s not what you want.
You are not a superhero. You do not have the answer to every question or the solution to every problem. Even if you did, it’s not your job to answer every question or solve every problem.
Take off the cape. Stop assuming your job is to save the day. Let someone else be the hero.
Excerpted from Making the Climb: From Salesperson to Sales Manager—and Beyond.
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