The Most Rewarding Words to Hear as a Leader

A leader is best when people barely know (s)he exists, when his(er) work is done, his(er) aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu

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Changing roles, whether within a company or to another company, is a time for reflection. As an early mentor of mine taught:

Company loyalty does not exist. You are a number and if it in the best interests of the company, you will be removed without a second thought. The only loyalty that exists in business is to people, those around you.

When you make a change, it is a time to reflect on what those people, team members, peers, customers and senior leadership, taught you and what they share as you exit.

There are the usual comments of “it is a loss for the company”, “we will miss your (insert personal trait)” and from others a heartfelt congratulations on the next step in your career. From those who have become friends or close colleagues, there are commitments to remain connected. At the same time you will probably reach out to scores of people that you built close relationships with, to thank them for their support, feedback, guidance, friendship and motivation.

If you are a leader who believes that you should invest in the success of others to be successful, what is most rewarding is an unsolicited note or phone call from those who’s career you impacted. There is nothing more gratifying than a team member, peer, customer or leader sharing how you helped them develop, take risks, learn and achieve a new level of success. A call from those you inspired.

When the time comes for your next transition, listen carefully to what people say at that moment. To them, this is a time of purest motivation. You no longer control their review, stock grant, product discount or bonus. They are sharing how they feel about you as a leader and teammate. It is a time of honesty that can never be captured in an employee or customer survey. At the same time, ensure that you reach out to thank those who helped you succeed.

Of course, you do not have to wait till the moment you exit. As you contemplate your development plan, goals and progress through the year, ask yourself – what would people share if you left today?

Hopefully, it includes the word inspired.

What rules will you break this year?

Every New Year people make commitments to new goals; fitness, family, faith. But how about a commitment to disobey – to break the rules?

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively”      Dalai Lama XIV

A great quote, one that I have spent my life inadvertently (and sometimes painfully) living by. After all, what are rules other than societal norms of the moment? Consider the Webster definition:

“a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system”

That system can be a country, culture or organization and what is allowed is always evolving. This is the reason why women can drive cars and vote and why the color of your skin cannot be used against you in most modern countries. In our society, new precedents arise, new theories are created and views change.

Which leads to the questions: Which rules will you break?   What new precedents will you set in this new year?

If you need inspiration, look to the innovators who have taken on decades old thinking to challenge the old rules and build new systems. The entrepreneurs look at the opportunity, not decades of rules that constrain them, to create – to challenge – to drive change. It is the reason why those of us who have stood on the side of the road waiting and waiting for a cab in San Francisco finally have an alternative (Thanks Uber), why there are more choices than terrible service from your local cable and telecommunications provider (Thanks Skype, Netflix, Apple to name a few), and why I never have to read a paper magazine again (Thanks Zinio).

If you are someone in charge of a sales team and like most, looking to transform or improve that team, then take this quote to heart. Your job is to break the rules and create new ones because the old rules, the old way of doing things often does not work. If it did, you would not be challenged with the task of driving change and improving.

I can not count the number of times that I have been told that I was breaking the rules and could not do what needed to be done. A few examples:

  • You cannot change the compensation plan to include an MBO because that is why you pay them a salary. We did, and it was an incredibly effective way to focus the sales team on goals outside of quota attainment. The MBO became our new compensation norm and core to driving process adoption.
  • You cannot give out less quota to your sales team than you carry as the leader. In that case, the numbers did not add up – the number of reps multiplied by the average revenue per rep did not hit my leadership quota. The top down, dysfunctional, totally random quota methodology meant that 30% of reps were hitting quota, the good ones were leaving, those who could survive on a salary were staying (a bad thing) and morale was in the tank. I handed out the lower quota because it was more important to ensure that the reps were given a number they could attain; one that was not hopeless right from the start. The result? They over-achieved, we grew double digits and through the process we created the new rule – leadership target was calculated by multiplying the number of reps by target revenue per rep. Target revenue per rep always grew, every quarter and we went from 30% hitting quota to 75% while driving double digit growth as we changed our team.
  • You cannot publish the reps attainment weekly (not my story – a close friends). It was a unionized sales environment and that was clearly against the rules. After much pushing and debate the rules were altered. The names were not allowed on the weekly public, posted list, only the employee numbers with their sales results. It did not matter, everyone knew who was at the top – and who was at the bottom. Sales went up double digits.

If you want to beat the pack, know the rules so you can figure out which you will alter, which need to be broken and HOPE that your competition is following the rules – it makes them easier to beat.

And remember …

“the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it”    Henry Ford.


Update: The post was picked up by Selling Power here.