Posts Tagged ‘executive leadership’

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Leadership in a Matrix Environment

March 30, 2011

As a professional speaker, the toughest crowd is the one filled with folks who talk for a living.

Salespeople understand how to tell stories; they understand that the customers’ story is where it all starts. Then, on to proposing and closing…and whoever tells the best story, wins. Delivering a product or service in a complex sales process is never the work of just one individual. Resources must be engaged, in order to respond to the RFP, or address particulars of technology, service level agreements (SLAs), etc. Many times these required resources have no direct reporting responsibility. In other words, the challenge facing sales executives is how to create leadership, without real authority. Creating a keynote on leadership can be challenging, especially for a bunch of sales pros. But, who wants the easy route, anyway?

Some believe that it is easy to inspire good behavior when you have the power and authority to influence bonuses, paychecks, and annual reviews. However, relying solely on a title, or the ability to hire and fire, is not about true leadership. Managing the day-to-day actions of a team of employees is a separate task from leadership in a matrix environment. Handling your reports is about direction; leading others without authority is about inspiration.

In a recent presentation to international sales executives at HP at HP Sales University, the topic of “acceleration” came up. In complex sales, there is no real way to accelerate the IT decisions or cap-ex (capital expenditure) investment that major corporations will make. However, it is possible to accelerate the role of the leader, fostering greater trust in a matrix environment.

Inspiring team members (even virtual team members) begins with recognition. Identifying and connecting with others means understanding a person’s unique contributions. Sure, it’s easy to see that the engineer or security specialist brings their own particular talents to the customer engagement; but what’s beyond the skill set? How can you recognize the unique contributions of the individuals on your team? More importantly, how can you demonstrate your ability to value (and leverage) those contributions?

Recognition really starts with “Why?” We all do our thing from 9-5, to collect our paychecks. But not all paychecks are created equally (even if the numbers are exactly the same). Consider: Why do you do what you do? Just to make money? OK, maybe so…but what does that money allow you to do? What are you able to do for yourself, your family, your church, your parents…because of what you do? Understand your “Why”, and then understand the “Why” of your team members. Get engaged in their story, and they will get engaged in yours.

Leadership is about influence.

It starts with recognition of others, as the first step towards trust. True leaders are able to be clear and transparent with their teams. By understanding the capabilities and the needs of the members of your team, you understand how to create an environment where individuals are not just recognized, but valued. Everyone, at every level, wants to make a contribution that is recognized, and valued. Prove that value to others, and you are telling the story that everyone wants to hear. Through trust and recognition, you earn the right to lead — not just in a matrix environment, but in any environment.

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Practice to Win, or You Never Will

February 9, 2011

Your biggest competition in business is “don’t know”.

If the customer doesn’t know what your product or service can do, they’ll never buy. And, if your competition is telling your story for you, then the customer will never know how you can make a difference. (And, by the way, it’s “the” customer, not “your” customer, because of what they don’t know).  The same concept applies to the management of sales teams, where “don’t know” can mean the difference between a lost sale and a major victory. The way to defeat “don’t know” from a management perspective is to create an environment for sales practice.

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Professional sports teams and performers practice much more than they actually play – but in business, it’s just the opposite. How do you get better at sales, if you never practice?

If you are really in the advanced class for weekly sales meetings, then you have the skills to explain exactly what to watch out for, and what to do in particular situations. Ask for volunteers to answer the tough questions! In a “What would you do if…” situation, you play the customer, or the client. Call somebody up to the front of the room and let them shadowbox a little on the competition, or pricing, or other key objections. Let the best come forward and show their stuff. It takes guts, but if you do this right you will teach volumes to your team!

Look, I know that sales management isn’t acting class, but if you want a great performance from your people you better show ’em how it’s done. Practice makes perfect, but you can’t expect perfection if you don’t demonstrate it first.

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Professional Development Coaching

October 4, 2010

Chris Westfall talks about “what they don’t teach you in business school” (video)

Are you looking for ways to capitalize on the value of your educational experience?

Produced by Your Online Video, Inc. Dallas, TX  http://youronlinevideo.net

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What’s the Value of an MBA?

September 29, 2010

There are some things they don’t teach you in business school…

What’s the value of the MBA degree? Every program has a cost, whether you pay through student loans or scholarships.  And, there’s also an investment – whether you go to school part-time, full-time or on the weekends.  So, there’s an investment of time.  Of course, there is the quality of the teaching in the classroom that has to be considered.  But what is the value of the MBA?

We all know that thousands of students graduate from MBA programs each year.  But the value of the degree is more than the cost, more than the quality of the teaching, more than the investment.  The value of the MBA can only be found in action.

The real value of the MBA is based on what the students make of it.  Top MBA programs realize that they have to give students real-world insights that can help them to apply their knowledge in a new economy.  Studying the work of Deming, Porter or Bennis is crucial to establishing a knowledge-base.  But, it’s what you do with that knowledge that establishes the value of the degree.

In my coaching sessions with professionals and MBA students, I focus on what they don’t teach you in business school.  Topics include:

  • Personal branding: Going beyond “sensible shoes, matching belt” to create executive-level interaction
  • Business Development Strategies:  Emails that Get Results, How to Bridge the Gap between Gen-Y and the Hiring Manager, Web 2.0 & Search Tools
  • Leadership:  Communicating at the executive level, and establishing yourself as a leader (no matter where you are in your career path)
  • Promotions, Raises, and Responsibility: How to Negotiate like a Pro, and Know When It’s Time to Move Up (or, Move Out)

Going Beyond the Classroom

The economy has changed, and MBA programs need to adapt.  More than the employment picture, MBA programs must consider the value of their brand – the application of the knowledge they provide.  By providing students with insight that they can’t find elsewhere, schools create competitive advantage, and enhance the value and prestige of their institution.

In my career, I have answered phones, done data entry work, and even delivered food.  I’ve also run a global sales force, with responsibility for 1200 systems integrators and distribution in 68 foreign countries.  In order to move from “smiling, filing and dialing” to the corner office, I had to become a student of success – observing and noting what skills and techniques were rewarded in the workplace.  For top-quality graduate programs in the new economy, the prestige of the degree (or the institution) isn’t enough.  Professionals have to understand how to apply their new-found knowledge, if they want to maximize the value of their degree.

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What CEOs Really Want

September 14, 2010

Click the image to see more on this report

Recently, IBM surveyed over 1500 CEOs, to find out their most pressing challenges.  The complexity of the worldwide markets, combined with an increased rate of change, were the top remarks.  In attempting to deal with the challenges of the current economy, business leaders cited one quality above all others that can help employees to make a difference.

Surprisingly, the most-desired quality or characteristic was not technical competence.  It wasn’t loyalty, or communication skills, or financial acumen.  The number-one most important characteristic for business leaders?  Creativity.

Surprising, when you consider the traditional definitions of creativity.  For “creatives”, that word is used as both a description, and an excuse (Ever heard this one? “We can’t/won’t/don’t do that, we’re ‘creative'”).  Under careful consideration, “being creative” is not always a positive and encouraging description.  Where do you find “creative” accountants, for example?  Answer: Jail.

For financial professionals, project managers, executives and other task- or numbers-oriented individuals, the call for creativity seems quite contrary to the training and experiences that form the very foundation of the business world.  “Creative” is a department, or a compartment, reserved for individuals with unique talents that are not particularly commonplace in shipping, accounts payable, or operations.  So, “creativity” is rare, shapeless, often negative, potentially dangerous and certainly counter-intuitive.  Has IBM generated a survey that appeals for an artsy-craftsy approach to business?  Or is there a deeper meaning that this author has carefully chosen to ignore, in an attempt to roll out a few one-liners? (Ah, you caught me….)  This survey actually says that it is time for creativity to turn this economy around.

Creativity, in the context of business, means the power of creation.  Creativity is the way that we harness our imagination to disrupt the status quo, and find new solutions to the same old problems. The global leaders in the IBM survey seek creative solutions to experiment and innovate.  The leaders in the survey identify creativity as the antidote for the status quo, and central to the necessary disruption that is required for our collective marketplace to get unstuck.

CEOs are looking for ways to shake up their portfolios, their business models, and their old ways of addressing challenges in the marketplace.

Business leaders expect complexity to increase, and the need for disruption to follow (perhaps even lead) the advancement.  Creativity is needed, above all else, in order to innovate and lead through this current financial climate.  Why?  Because business must create a new future.  That future must build on the present, but in new and meaningful ways – ways that can only be described as “creative”, because they haven’t been created yet!

Creativity means many things, but at its core, the process of creation begins with an idea.  Based on current information, “what if?” opens the door to imagination – and new solutions can only come from within the realm of new ideas.  As the economy continues to churn and struggle, the leaders of tomorrow are the ones who are open to new concepts, new perspectives and new solutions.  Seeing things as they are is an important skill (awareness), but seeing things as they could be – and then making them that way – well, that takes some creativity.  Don’t you agree?

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Brainstorming for Results

September 7, 2010

Have you ever had a really good guided tour of the weeds, often called a “brainstorming session”?

As the ideas churn forward, each one less practical than the last, participants are rewarded and encouraged to dream large and often improbable solutions to real-world problems. How can these sessions be managed into an effective process, one that allows for the necessary freedom of thought but also the guidance that delivers real and tangible results?

Brainstorming About Acorns? Consult an Expert

Separating real accomplishment from group therapy requires a facilitator who is willing to set up clear communication on what is expected. (I will assume that “Six Thinking Hats” and other resources are already in play for the group leader). Often what is missing is a clear objective for the session, and necessary details about the business challenge at hand.

In a brainstorming session, CONTEXT trumps CONTENT.

In other words, participants need to know a clear objective and framework for what is about to be discussed. We CAN think of lots of things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. The best ideas will be the ones that fit the context most appropriately. It is a delicate balance to create an environment of trust and openness within a framework of objectives and results. However, that is part of the clear communication that is required before anyone goes deep into the potential abyss of “brainstorming”.

Setting the ground rules is key for an effective session, and all participants (operative word: “ALL”) need to understand that they will be expected to offer ideas. Effective brainstorming takes courage, and that requires en_couragement from the facilitator. Oftentimes, the starting point is a version of “there are no bad ideas”…(ooh, I’ve had a few. There was the football bat, and the unicorn feeder…still convinced that all ideas are good ideas?) The key thing to remember is: Don’t get married to your ideas, but put them out there just the same. A good facilitator creates that environment and gets everyone to play in the sandbox.

Click Image to See on Amazon.com

If every idea is good, then none of them are. That’s why Edward de Bono’s book is so effective, because it breaks brainstorming into steps and facilitates cream rising to the top. For me, the first step is a clear and established context for ideas – only then can those ideas be shaped into results.

Judgments and comparisons must come after the brainstorming session, to separate the wheat from the chaff. The stack ranking of ideas and collation of valuable material must be handled with respect – but handled nonetheless. Brainstorming takes courage, a true willingness to bring your best ideas, and an ego-less attachment to the outcomes.

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“I Only Want the Toughest Customers…”

August 30, 2010

Asking for the toughest customers is like trying to pet a shark, or date a nun – you instantly know that it won’t end up well, so why ask for it? I was out to dinner last night with my friend, BigTime. Surprisingly, he let me know that he only wants the toughest customers. Say what–?

My friend is one of the best salespeople I know – he deals with an ultra-elite clientele in the Big Apple. This guy specializes in the demands of high-net-worth individuals with a skill that is both rare, and easygoing.

His customer logic goes like this: I want only the most difficult customers because, if they even think of shopping me with competitors, I will win every time. The toughest customers will chew up my competition, and disqualify them right out of the gate, because that’s the kind of service and solutions that my company can provide. He’s looking for the clients who are so tough and so demanding that other service providers get scared by their demands, and struggle to prove they can meet them. It’s not a problem for BigTime, and that’s the way he knows a qualified lead.

Also Big Time: Lincoln Center

Interesting perspective. We bounced the idea around some more, and I came away with some additional thoughts.

  1. If you are faced with a tough customer, thank them for helping you to be better. The best antidote for attitude is gratitude (apologies for the terrible rhyme, please judge my ideas – not my poems).
  2. If you are taking a beating over something you did, or your company did, or you are about to do, I have two words of advice: don’t duck.
  3. Here are six more: Face it, take it, fix it. It’s that simple.

Face up to the challenge of the difficult customer, and you will learn what it is that you need to know. For BigTime, he always looks forward to the toughest possible client as the greatest opportunity. He knows that he can offer what others cannot, that’s why he’s BigTime. A demanding client, in his business, means that the competition is out of the mix. The best way to defeat your competition is unequaled customer service. Disqualify your competition by being the one who doesn’t duck the tough stuff. When you resolve the really scary issues, you learn, you grow, and you create customers for life. The only way to know if you have what it takes, is to get started. If you’d like one suggestion on what you could do today, make up your mind to astonish the most difficult customer you know (and yes, the people you work with are internal customers). What can you do to make a difference, and show that when it comes to customer service, you are BigTime?

Difficult times show us what we are made of; difficult customers force us to be better and help our companies to demonstrate competitive advantage.

[ The names in this post have been changed to protect the guilty 😉 ]