Act Like a Leader

If you hope to be a leader someday then start acting like a leader today. – Steve Keating

At one time of my life I sold soda pop. I loved it, I made a lot of friends in my accounts and overall, it was a pretty low stress job.

One day I received a message that the President of the company wanted to see me in his office at the end of the day. It was a Friday and I received the message around noon. I spent the better part of the afternoon wondering what I had done to be summoned on a Friday afternoon; whatever it was I was pretty sure it couldn’t be good.

When I entered his office he asked me to be seated and he got right to the point. He asked me if I was aware that there was a “problem” in the sales department. I had no idea what he was talking about but I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I said yes, I was aware.

He said he had been watching me and as my heart began to sink he added that he thought I could be a solution to the problem.

Suddenly things were looking up for me and I was thinking that perhaps I might be getting a promotion to District Manager. I was wrong about that too…

In keeping with his professional but direct manner he said that he would like me to consider accepting the role of General Sales Manager. I can only imagine the look on my face. He was asking me to skip the district AND regional manager levels and move directly to the top of the sales organization.

I took the weekend to consider, although I didn’t have enough information about the position to consider much, and on Monday morning I accepted the position.

I wonder to this day what the heck he was thinking when he offered me that job.

From the moment I accepted it my sales career with that organized began to go down hill. I made mistake after mistake, there were way too many mistakes to mention them all here. Some of the mistakes were trivial and some were rather gigantic but what they all had in common is that they were frequent.

I was completely, totally, massively unprepared for that position. I had never considered the possibility that in my late twenties I’d be put in charge of anything and my preparations to move into a leadership role reflected that fact.

I didn’t even understand how unprepared I was until I left that company to accept a sales position at Dale Carnegie Training, an organization unparalleled in preparing ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results as a leader.

I had fallen into the destination trap. The destination trap says that there is no need to develop your leadership skills until and unless you are in a leadership position.

I learned the hard way just how dumb that is.
The only way you can avoid the destination trap is to begin preparing yourself to lead before you find yourself in a leadership position. Step one is to act like a leader; lead yourself well, control your emotions, control your attitude and find yourself a mentor or coach.

Study great leaders and their leadership styles. Determine what will work for you “someday” and you’ll be surprised how quickly some day will come. Don’t wait for a leadership position to just come your way, learn to lead before you need to and ensure that you’re prepared to meet the many challenges of leadership when they arrive.

4 thoughts on “Act Like a Leader

  1. Steve, I appreciate you being vulnerable and humble enough to tell this story. Two attributes of great leaders btw.

    I remember a Gen Y woman friend asking me the same question. “How can I become a better leader?” I gave her the same advice. Begin acting like a leader.

    Though I’m curious, what do you think your boss saw in you that had him promote you to the GSM position?

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