Saturday, March 15, 2008

When they say manage, they mean take the lead

by Susan Miller

I began writing this column on an entirely different subject. But with only a couple of paragraphs completed, I received the news that my husband's 26-year-old son had just landed a regional sales manager position for a major motorcycle company. With a Bachelor of Music degree under his belt and two years of selling motorcycles, he will soon be working with 16 dealerships in a six-state region to help them grow sales.

With that being said, you might think today's topic would pertain to some aspect of sales, perhaps the misleading notions surrounding the shift from sales to sales management. Nope. We covered that one last May.

Today's column encompasses the advice I would offer this, or any, young person about the enormous opportunity and potential challenges that lie ahead. So if a stepmother were to be asked, this is what this stepmother might say.

Don't let the title fool you. It may be called sales management, but this is a leadership position. Dorothy was not in Kansas anymore, and you're not in the motorcycle business any longer -- at least not entirely. You're in the people business now and you lead people; you manage things. Plan to spend 70 percent of your time leading, and 30 percent managing.

American author, salesperson, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, "You can get anything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." I believe this is where 99 percent of new managers fail -- in confusing who is serving whom. Understand that you are in a leadership role for the sole purpose of helping others become successful. Their success is your success. No one comes to work every day to fail. Help them succeed.

Learn the business of your industry's business, but become a life-long student of leadership. With demanding professors, college exams and finals behind you, only you can hold yourself accountable to this task. I promise if you commit yourself to becoming a student of leadership and practice what you learn, you will be a more effective leader than a man twice your age who believes a title is all he needs to demand results. Read everything you can on the subject of leadership. Listen to CDs. Attend seminars. Prepare yourself. It is better to prepare than repair.

Get to know the key people you will work with, and not just their names and positions. Meet them and engage in meaningful dialogue, doing 10 percent of the talking and 90 percent of the listening. Find importance in everyone, and work to acknowledge those things that are important to others. Always remember that every person is a person before they are a parts manager or a sales person or a finance clerk or a mechanic.

Set a goal of cultivating trust in all your business relationships. Understand that the first questions others will ask themselves of you are, "Can this person help me?" "Does this person have my best interest at heart?" and "Can I trust this person?" Author Stephen Covey illustrated the importance of these questions when he wrote, "It simply makes no difference how good [your] rhetoric is or even how good [your] intentions are; if there is no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success."

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