A lot of my leadership background comes from training and “hands-on” experience in the Navy. So, when the discussion turns to leadership and leadership style, I find there are useful comparisons between my naval career and my corporate experience. I believe there are fundamental principles that differentiate strong and successful leaders.
Regardless of context, when you put someone in charge of a group, power can go to that person's head. I’ve seen this at many companies, where first-time managers will run rough shod over their team because they want to do things “their way.” Likewise, young officers in the military will sometimes act as if they know everything because they’re in charge, and they have the rank.
There are two types of leaders — in the Navy and in corporate America. Those who want to make changes because they have the authority to do so, and those who realize they need the team to buy into their leadership. Leaders need to be coaches, not dictators. They need to understand the individuals on their team — their motivations, their career objectives, and what they want. This is the difference between hierarchical leadership and side-by-side leadership.
Leaders, whether in business or in the military, need to understand that the success of an organization is dependent on everyone working together to achieve maximum results. The “incremental” effort your teams are willing to invest in the success of the organization is sometimes the difference between meeting your goals or falling short.
Leaders need to be coaches, not dictators. They need to understand the individuals on their team — their motivations, their career objectives, and what they want.
The military does a fantastic job training and enabling its personnel and leaders. I spent four years in a Reserve Officer Training program and five months at Surface Warfare Officer School. However, there is little that can prepare you for assuming your initial assignment onboard a ship, plane, or submarine.
When I set foot on the battleship New Jersey for the first time, I was given a division of 40 people. I had the rank and authority to lead the division, but was one of the youngest and most “green” on the ship. It was a seminal moment in my life and my career. How would I respond and lead senior enlisted members (some of whom had been in the Navy for 25 years already) and earn their respect?
It would have been incomprehensible for me to enter that situation and think I knew the best way to run the division. Yet, I saw many an officer attempt to do just that and fail — because they assumed their position equated to leadership, which often alienated the individuals who could “make or break” their success.
I’ve been fortunate to work with and for some fantastic leaders in the military and in corporate America. I’ve found that effective leadership can be boiled down to a few succinct characteristics and common traits.
There’s no magic formula for becoming a successful sales leader, but from my experience, here are several recommendations.
Take time to recognize the people who are doing things that are valuable for the company, valuable for your team, and that we can all learn from.
My favorite job in sales management has always been the first line manager. I firmly believe that our regional sales directors (RSDs - first line management) are the most important people in any sales organization. They will directly affect revenue, customer engagement, and product direction more than anyone else in the company. If you have great front-line managers, you will have a great sales team and a great sales trajectory.
If you ask most officers in the military they will tell you that “The Chiefs run the Navy” (just like Sergeants run the Army and Marines). And, I would submit that in corporate sales, RSDs are analogous to these senior enlisted leaders in the military. You don't run an effective sales organization without great front-line managers. So, hiring and motivating those managers is Job One for me. I’m super fortunate to have some of the best, if not the best, front-line managers I’ve seen in any company. These are the people who will help greatly determine whether your organization and company are successful moving forward.
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