She Said: Learn To Let Outside Influences MAKE You And Not BREAK You
Some of my best memories are all about the positive and encouraging people I have encountered up to this point in my life. I could share with you story after story about my father. I could tell you that I learned the art of storytelling from my grandfather. I could share with you about Miss Adams (first grade) and Mrs. Smith (senior English). I could tell you about Mr. Sykes (speech and debate teacher). I could even tell you about Melissa Opheim (best female boss I ever had). I could share with you about all these people and their impact on me, my life and my career path. However, that would leave out the people that made a huge impact by helping me learn from my negative experiences with them.
Are you ready to hear all the dirt?
Well…I’m not going to tell you their real names…I am going to give them names that see more fitting to what I learned from them. I also need to make an “unpopular” statement here. These three people I plan to share are all women. That is right. All women. You would think that being a woman I would have a list of men that were rude, harsh, harassing and mean. However, I don’t. It wasn’t that there weren’t “difficult” male personalities along the way. The men just didn’t act in soul and people crushing ways. It was the women that “took the cake”. The very gender that was supposed to be about sisterhood and reaching back were the ones that seems to teach the harshest life lessons.
Let’s start with Megan I-Only-Like-Top-Producers.
As a sales director/ manager, Megan had the power to encourage, train and lift up ALL producers. However, Megan preferred to use her “status” as a way of justifying who she worked with. In her opinion, people should immediately understand sales. They should immediately come to the company capable of reaching the level of top performer in less than 3 months. They should know how to navigate the company “back office”, learn on their own time and have a firm grasp of marketing and sales funnel development. Megan used her “time” as a gift to those that reached the top. She would travel with them. She would treat them to dinner and gifts. She would spend personal time coaching them to even high achievements. Megan just didn’t understand why others didn’t rise as fast or meet her expectation. She didn’t understand why this behavior was actually de-motivating to newbies and those that didn’t develop or grow as fast. Megan understood one thing….her paycheck and bonuses were all about production. Therefore, in her mind, it was justifiable that she work with those that were “clearly” building her paycheck.
Megan misunderstood a few things. 1) All people don’t come to sales “equal”. Some are naturals. Others have to learn. The people that seemed to always have high performances were people with prior sales experience. They really didn’t “need” her. THEY weren’t her job. 2) The bigger bulk of the performance markers were made up by “average” producers. The ones that had steady performance but hadn’t pushed past a certain “ceiling” in their sales. She was actually making MORE money from these people even though she was be RECOGNIZED as a top sales manager because of a handful of top salespeople.
I learned how to NOT develop people from Megan I-Only-Like-Top-Producers. I learned that one of the most powerful things a leader can do is be a teacher. I learned to take the time to learn how to best train and support all members of the team. If Megan had invested more time in working with her more modest performers, statistics say she would have seen at least half of them increase their performance by a minimum of 25%. She would have seen faster growth from those “average” producers than the higher producers that were seeing a 5% increase because they were already creating such huge numbers. Megan taught me that I should be working with ALL my team. Not just the ones that had already mastered their roles and functions.
Now let me introduce you to Samantha Micromanager.
Samantha was hired to be the top executive over a leadership team of 7 vice president level department heads. This wasn’t Samantha’s first role in the top executive role. However, it was the largest team and largest organization she had ever led. In fact, facts would later be revealed that Samantha had struggled in her prior leadership role with the same reasons she would now struggle in a larger organization. You may be asking…if she was not doing well in her prior role, why would she be hired by a larger organization? Good question. The answer is…because her prior board of directors lied and gave glowing references to get rid of her with out having to offer her a costly severance package to get her to leave! (all that info came through conversations board members and other company leaders would have with business leaders that would know) Do things like that really happen? SURE THEY DO!
Anyway, I think you can guess by Samantha’s “last name”, she struggled to give her leadership team the vision and then entrust them to implement. She wanted to be CCed on EVERY email. She wanted to be the final decision maker on even the smallest of decisions. She wanted NOTHING to leave the office that she hadn’t personally read. If you can imaging, the back-log that began to happen in every department because the department heads were waiting on her to sign off on EVERYTHING. It got so bad, that she had to have the tech department archive emails that she hadn’t read yet by department. Then when a leader would ask for a decision, she could search for those emails and directly. Not only was department staff frustrated and department heads angry, Board Members began meeting privately with department heads to find out why divisions of the company weren’t moving. It took 3 years and the turn over of staff 3 times before the Board of Directors finally bought out her contract.
Here is what I learned, leadership is about setting vision. You then communicate that vision to your leaders or team. Then you have to trust that they implement. You should be oversight not detail focused. You should be watching for talent and skill. When you see that a leader or team member is struggling, then the leader should teach, guide and direct. When you micromanage people, you will get one of two responses. Either talented people will leave you or your will create a team of do-nothings (because you won’t let them) and you will have 10x the work to carry the load. (which no one can do effectively). The tendency to micromanage is an easy one to fall into. We all want to be in the “know”. However, a leader empowers. If you can’t set a strong vision, communicate it and then trust your team, you need to evaluate if you are the problem or if you have the wrong team. (did you notice that 2 of the 3 items in that sentence are about the leader and not the team?)
The last leader that made a mark was Diane Direct.
Diane’s communication style was abrupt. You always knew what she was thinking. This was great in meetings. Meetings were short. She was clear and concise. We learned to share information back in a clear manner. Projects moved at the speed of light because there was little fluff. However, Diane’s communication style also came with some HUGE pitfalls. Diane didn’t filter. If she didn’t like something, she was harsh in her delivery. She also shared hard feedback on staff performance in a meetings vs. private conversations. She didn’t realize that in “saving time” by just being direct no matter where the conversation was…she was hurting and humiliating her team. Eventually, the only person communicating was Diane. No one wanted to share, collaborate, celebrate or report because Diane’s response was usually hurtful. (think the Devil Wears Prada).
Diane’s direct style also came into play at pitch presentations with potential clients, restaurants with wait staff and even the cleaning crew for the office. While Diane’s chosen style of communication created speed, it clearly alienated a key resource in business….people. I learned from watching Diane that feedback and direct communication can be an asset IF you remember that it is received by a human being. How you share information, feedback or even disagree requires respect and tact. Hard driving communication can be necessary in certain situations but it is not the ideal communication style for leadership, team and talent development and potential client cultivation.
Of all the business lessons I have learned, these painful ones have made the biggest difference in who I choose to be. Instead of carrying these incidents and episodes around in a hurtful way, I choose to find the nugget of goodness that I could apply forward. Whether you have lost a job, been laid off or struggled with leadership, don’t let it break you. Find a way to let it make you.
For more information on Amy….email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.