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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Teller or Seller? Great Leaders Need to be Both!

Some time ago I went to one of my Vistage members (Managing Director of a significantly sized company) for his one-to-one mentoring session and he greeted me with:

“I’m very concerned.”
“OK” I said, “concerned about what?”
“I think that I am beginning to develop certainties” he said, and sat back looking worried.  I pointed out that developing certainties was unlikely to be terminal and he cheered up a bit.
Some judicious questioning elicited the fact that, as a leader, he felt very conscious of the need to involve his people and indeed had put processes in place to ensure that this happened as far as possible throughout the business.  In other words, that was his preferred management style.
What had happened, of course, was something well known to all leaders when in some frustration and possibly even irritation, he had decided to impose his decision and get the job done, rather than do the decent thing and discuss it with his people before taking action.
All leaders are instinctvely tellers or sellers.  The tellers are the authoritative leaders who hand down decisions from on high, top down, and then expect action and even more so, successful action.  In this environment the blame culture flourishes.
The other type is the seller, a leader who shares ideas and thoughts with his/her team and takes action only when satisfied that everyone has bought into the decision.
The problem for the leader is that certain situations demand that he/she needs to be a teller when all instincts scream out to say “That is not your preferred style!”
We need to realise that it is not as black and white as that.  In fact, there is a continuum from teller to seller and we move, hopefully effortlessly, towards one or another as the situation demands.   
The instinctive style of a seller will keep him/her nearer to that end of the continuum but if some movement towards that of the teller is needed, it is vital to understand that it is not a betrayal of all that is holy.
 
It is merely an acceptable answer to an immediate need so don’t worry about it.  It is very unlikely to be terminal.
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