Leadership Slippage

I recently received a call from a very effective sales leader. He was frustrated with the recent performance of his sales team and wanted to talk about a couple of his people in particular. I asked how many of his people he thought were underperforming and he said that actually all of them were but some were doing worse than others. 

I asked him what he thought was going on and he said he wasn’t sure. That’s what he wanted to talk to me about. He was surprised when I said that while I didn’t know exactly where the team went off the rails I was pretty sure I knew the source of the problem. 

I’m thinking he wasn’t too happy when I told him that he was the likely source. 

As with most sales leaders he has always accepted part of the credit for his team’s success. But it must worth both ways. If you’re a sales leader the first place you should look if all or most of your team is underperforming is in the mirror. 

Think if it this way. There is only one thing all your salespeople definitely have in common. Your salespeople are all unique individuals. Depending on the structure of the sales organization they may even sell different products to different markets.

The sales leader is the one thing they definitely have in common. That’s why when an entire sales team is slipping I look at the leader. 

I asked him what HE was doing differently. He said he was doing what he always had. He hadn’t changed and neither had the level of leadership he provided to his team. So we started talking back and forth and I eventually asked about his conversations with his team. He said he had asked several members of his team where they were struggling. He asked about specific customers and where in the sales process they were with particular prospects. 

He said that only added to his frustration because they didn’t seem to know. 

I stopped him cold when I asked him, “when did YOU start accepting ‘I don’t know’ as an acceptable answer?” I pushed my point by asking him when he had stopped holding his team accountable for knowing every detail about their territory and their customers. 

He said he didn’t realize that he had. 

That is an incredibly common mistake among all leaders. Leaders have the same ability to slip into bad habits as the people they lead. Authentic Leaders encourage their people to analyze their own performance from time to time but forget that they must do the same. 

When was the last time you paused to ask yourself the following questions? What’s working for you? What’s not working? What good habit have you let slip away? Have you replaced it with a bad habit? What circumstances have changed that you have not adjusted to? How have you positively impacted the people you lead in the last 30 days? 

It’s human nature for some slippage in performance to happen from time to time. That’s where having a coach or a mentor can really come in handy. They can help you identify the slippage before it becomes a problem. If you’re not willing to ask yourself those questions a caring mentor will. 

What many people in Leadership positions don’t realize is that slippage can happen to them as well as their people. That’s why leaders need mentors too. I’ve never met anyone, regardless of age, experience, or level of success who didn’t benefit from having a coach or a mentor. 

Has your level of leadership slipped lately? Slipping into occasional bad habits doesn’t make you a weak leader, it makes you a human being. Being human is a pretty darn good thing to be, especially when you’re trying to lead other humans.

Look and Listen

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to coach the people you lead. We coach to reinforce positive behavior, we coach to motivate, and sometimes we must coach for corrective action. 

Most often that coaching is in the form of talking. We advise, we suggest, and hopefully not very often, we tell. 

So here’s two pieces of advice for the next time you find yourself in a coaching situation. 

First listen to what you’re saying. I’m serious about that…really listen. In fact, record the conversation and when you play it back listen to what YOU said. Listen to the tone of your voice. Were you speaking in positives and possibilities or were you speaking in negatives and consequences? 

Were you specific in why you’re coaching or did you leave the person you were coaching wondering what the conversation was really about. If you were coaching for corrective action were you very very specific in what needs to change and when? Were you crystal clear in how that change would be measured? Did you leave doubt about your expectations? Any doubt leaves a gray area. Coaching for corrective action requires that you “paint” your expectations in black and white as much as possible.

It’s important to know that when you allow gray areas while coaching for corrective action you give people a place to hide from responsibility. Shades of gray make for a mighty comfortable place to hide from change as well. 

More important than listening to yourself is looking at yourself. As a leader your people will do what you DO far faster than they will do what you SAY. If you’re coaching them towards a better attitude and your attitude sucks then all the words in the world aren’t going to change their attitude. 

As their leader YOU are their model for successful behavior. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are leading by example. If your words do not match your actions then your people will have to make a choice.

Do they do what you say or do they do what you do? They may not believe what they hear but they almost always will believe what they see. 

They will do what you do!

If you’re going to help your people trust what you say then your actions MUST match your words. If you force them to make a choice between “say” or “do” they will choose do and your chances of truly leading them will go the way of the dodo bird.

In both cases, listening to yourself and looking at yourself, you need to be completely honest. Authentic Leaders do not lie to themselves. Do not cut yourself an ounce of slack, if you think your tone was too negative then fix it. If you find that your actions are not a mirror image of your words then change your actions or change your words. 

They MUST match. 

Remember, you may hold a leadership position but your journey to Authentic Leadership never stops. You can and should continue to learn and grow, exactly like the people you lead.

Your Best Coach

I write from time to time on the importance of having a coach or a mentor. The best mentors show you what to do and how to do it. They don’t do it for you.

At some point all successful people did something to make themselves a success. They likely had a coach or mentor but they had to make the effort to act on the advice they received. THEY HAD TO ACT THEMSELVES!

Taking action to accomplish something requires a whole different kind of coach. It requires a “self-coach.” That would be you!

At some point you must push yourself. You must accept responsibility for your actions and decisions. What you’re taught can’t help you if you don’t apply it. The best advice in the world falls flat if you don’t use it.

If you do nothing then nothing is exactly what you should expect in return.

If you’re a good self-coach then you’re setting goals for yourself. Long-term, medium-term goals and short-term goals. Those short-term goals can be daily or even hourly. As an excellent self-coach you turn large, seemingly insurmountable tasks into a series of smaller tasks that you can accomplish on a daily or weekly basis.

That old city in Italy wasn’t built in a day and neither is long-term success. Doing a little each day will most definitely help you achieve a lot over time.

That’s the best thing about being/having a great self-coach…they are with you every day, all day.

The challenge with your self-coach, or your inner-coach, or whatever you want to call it, is the same as it is with a mentor or outside coach. You MUST listen to their advice and then act on it.

A single pound of action is worth more than a ton of good intentions. One thing highly successful people have in common with less successful people is that they both have good intentions. What most often separates the highly successful people from the less successful is that the most successful people act on those intentions.

So follow this coaches advice and ACT!

Your Greatest Competition

I like competitive people. I like people who enjoy winning. I’d hire people who hate losing. The desire to compete creates the opportunity to succeed. 

 

While the desire to complete is key understanding who your competition is can be even more important. Successful competitors believe their competition is some other person or some other organization. The most successful competitors know that their greatest competitor is the person they see in the mirror each morning. 

 

Too many people try to be better than someone else. The most successful people worry less about other people and more about themselves. They focus on what they can control and the only thing they have complete control over is themselves. They work to be better tomorrow than they are today. They know that even if it’s only a little better that a lot of littles add up to something big. 

 

The most successful people invest in themselves to ensure consistent improvement. They read more than less successful people. They find training, not just to shore up their weak spots but to further strengthen their strengths. 

 

The most successful people have a coach or a mentor because they know a second sets of eyes, a second opinion and a second set of experiences can make a world of difference in competitive situations. 

 

To be more successful don’t worry about what someone else is doing. You have little to no control over them. Focus on yourself, focus on what you can control. Focus on making yourself a little more effective each day. 


Be better tomorrow than you were today because all those tomorrows create for you the opportunity to put distance between yourself and any competitors not named you.


Are You’re To Critical?

I’m betting there are a whole lot of people who, even if they are reading this sentence, are only paying partial attention to it.

 

They are only partially focused on it because they can’t get past the poor spelling in the title. The two mistakes in the title have tainted the entire post for them. Some people won’t read the post at all because of the grammar issues. They assume that there is little to learn from anyone who uses “you’re” where “your” should have been used. Using “to” in place of “too” likely sent them over the edge. 

 

Thank you to those of you who have hung around long enough to give me a chance to explain. 

 

The “mistakes” in the title are not really mistakes. I used those words to make a point. The point is that when we are too critical of other people we lose the opportunity to learn from them.

 

The most open minded successful people look past imperfections and use what they can to learn from everyone they meet. They realize that just because someone may misuse a word here and there or misspell a word now and then it doesn’t mean that everything they say or write should be dismissed. 

 

No one is perfect, no one knows everything and everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t mean that they are not knowledgeable or that their opinion is less valuable than anyone else’s. 

 

The most successful people and the most effective leaders know that everyone knows something that they don’t. That means they can learn from anyone and that’s exactly what they do. 

 

Every viewpoint and opposing opinion teaches you something if you can keep an open mind. In fact, you’ll learn more from people who think differently than you then you’ll ever learn from people who think just like you. 

 

Yes, typos, misspelled and misused words distract from the message. Using the wrong word in a presentation or a sentence lessens it’s impact but….. for a leader those are coaching opportunities, not a reason to dismiss the entire message. It most certainly does not diminish the value of the person making the mistake.  


Anybody can find fault with someone else, it takes a leader to see the strengths in everyone. If you’re focusing too much on the mistakes of others you’re also making it much harder to learn from what they do well. That is YOUR mistake and one that YOU should work on before you try eliminating the mistakes of others.

The Coaching Cookie

I frequently start leadership presentations by asking the audience to share in one word a key responsibility of leadership.

 

It doesn’t take long for someone to come up with the word “coach” and they are exactly right. Leaders should always be coaching their people towards their next accomplishment and greater success.

 

Too often however leaders believe the time for coaching is only when corrective action is required. They coach to “fix” someone or something. Now that’s certainly appropriate but it shouldn’t be the only time you coach. 

 

Another great time to coach is when someone has done something well. That’s when you coach for positive reinforcement. The key difference between the two of course is that coaching for corrective action is best done privately while coaching for positive reinforcement can be done publicly. 

 

Early in my career I was taught the concept of “The Coaching Cookie.” This is a practice we use when coaching for corrective action. It begins with a compliment, then you state the area needing improvement and finish up your coaching conversation with another compliment. 

 

In the hands of an Authentic Servant Leader that concept can work well. It works for them because their compliments are sincere and they provide in-depth information as to exactly what needs to improve, precisely what “improvement” will look like and how it will be measured. Their “cookie” isn’t filled with fluff, it’s filled with nourishing insights. 

 

The problem I have with this particular coaching concept is that too many people in leadership positions simply use it as a conflict avoidance tool. They focus on the compliments while understating the corrective action required. These “leaders” are more concerned with avoiding conflict than building people.

 

Anytime you’re going to coach your people, for whatever reason, you should be very thoughtful about it. Invest some time in getting this right. If you’re going to use the Coaching Cookie then make sure your filling is meaningful. Be clear, be specific and add a dash of accountability by including a date to review whether the improvement was achieved. 

 

Avoiding conflict by failing to coach your people isn’t helping you and it most certainly isn’t helping them. 


One characteristic of a truly Authentic Servant Leader is that they care enough to coach even in difficult circumstances. Do your people see that characteristic in you? If not you have the power to change that; you only have to decide that you will.


The Limits of Good Mentoring

I’ve been truly blessed throughout my life to have great mentors. I knew they were great mentors because every now and then they would say “I don’t know, you should probably ask someone else.” 

 

I’ve written several times on the importance of having a mentor. No matter your age, your current level of success, your title or your position within your organization, you will do better tomorrow if you have a mentor today. What’s more you’ll be even better off if you have multiple mentors. 

 

Here’s why. 

 

One of the things that make a great mentor is that they know what they don’t know and they didn’t pretend that they know it. 

 

You can have a mentor who is a brilliant business strategist but not so capable with their people skills. You can have a managerial genius as a mentor but that doesn’t mean they are great leadership coaches. 

 

Those “gaps” don’t mean they are a bad mentor. It’s when they attempt to fill those gaps with guesses, rumors, and plain old BS that they become a poor mentor. I suppose there are mentors who do have a vast amount of knowledge across a very wide spectrum of skill sets and situations…..I just haven’t found one.

 

I’d much rather have a mentor, and much much rather be a mentor, who occasionally has the confidence to say “I just don’t know,” and “I don’t want to steer you wrong so I can’t answer that.” 

 

This may sound a bit counterintuitive but if you have a mentor that has an answer for every question and advice for every single situation then it is very likely you don’t have the right mentor for you. 

 

Having more than one mentor helps overcome the limits that all truly good mentors have. When you have multiple mentors you are more likely to have a mentor with deeper experience in the area(s) where you need help. When you have mentors who look at the same situation but view it from different angles you’re provided with a deeper understanding of what you’re dealing with and that makes a successful outcome much more likely.

 

If you don’t have a mentor today then find one today. Find someone who you feel is successful, someone who cares enough about people to share their “library of experience,” and someone who is willing to invest a part of themselves in your success. 


When you find someone with those characteristics then you have found a mentor and when you’ve found a mentor you’re that much closer to finding an even greater level of success.