It's strange how a theme for this blog seems to pop up during the week and is reinforced several times in meetings with clients.
In a meeting with a consultancy client this week, we were discussing the performance of his team, and he mentioned that he was concerned that his Sales Manager "is a very good opener but a poor closer". He went on to say that he can open the door to new clients, build a relationship, put over a good story but in end, he fails to close the deal. It seemed to stem from a period when competition was fierce and he lost a couple of significant orders which had made him either defeatist or defensive or both.
I have been listening to the radio commentaries on the European Games this week and was fascinated to hear Darren Campbell, a former European sprint gold medal winner, say that to be a great champion, it has to be understood that the physical aspect of the athlete's preparation had to be a "given"; that the coaches, the physios, the doctors and nutritionists would all have done their jobs and the athlete would go into the competition fully prepared - physically.
Campbell made the point that the aspect that differentiates the good from the great is purely mental; that the great athlete had complete self-belief and knew precisely what the objective was - to win. It was interesting to hear the reaction of a silver medallist who said to the interviewer that "he hadn't come to Barcelona to come second - he had come to win" so the most important thing for him was the next competition, the Commonwealth Games.
The great coach (or leader for that matter) had the ability to enthuse his/he charges with that total self-belief that they can only win, not at all costs, but in competition with others of equal or sometimes greater talent. A deep knowledge or even experience of the technicalities or details of the sport is less important that this rare facility to deliver that feeling of invulnerability.
The great Mark Spitz, a swimmer who won eight gold medals at one Olympic Games, had a coach who not only couldn't swim but had a morbid fear of water. What he could do supremely well was to build Mark Spitz's self-belief to a level which enabled him to win and go on winning.
So what has this to do with a Sales Manager who is defeatist because at some
time in the past he lost a couple of orders? The main function of the leader at any level and in any environment is to be coach to his/her team, to enthuse them with a feeling of wanting to win, to build their trust and hence their self-belief and to give constant encouragement. It is not to be the best technician; others are employed to be that.
Ed Ryan, a noted US HR specialist, says that "we hire on skills and fire on attitude". Turn that on its head and ask ourselves the question - do we hire or promote on attitude rather than skills? What, in the final analysis, is more important, skills or attitude, especially in a leader?
The primary function of the leader is to be the coach to the team, to build that feeling of invincibility and that is the how, as Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, we can get the right people on the bus.
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