Someone gave me an opportunity to speak at a high school commencement this past weekend. It was an extraordinary honor. Watch in the coming days for some thoughts from that commencement address.
One of the things that I needed to provide was a short bio for the principal to use when he introduced me. Drafting that reminded me of just how many jobs I have had over the last 39 years. One of the jobs that I had was in sales. And one of the things that became apparent immediately was that the ranks of sales managers were full of the companies greatest salespeople
So, what’s the problem?
That seems like a logical place to draw from if you need sales managers. Just find your best salespeople and promote them. That ought to work. There is only one problem. It doesn’t always. The skills that make you a great sales professional don’t necessarily make you a great management professional.
Is there a leadership point in there somewhere?
Yes! And it is this. Just like great sales professionals don’t make necessarily make great managers, great and loyal followers don’t necessarily make great leaders. The problem is that many leaders love to be surrounded by loyal followers. And whenever there is a leadership need, leaders often look to those who are deemed to be most loyal.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is often manifested in several ways. Let’s consider a few:
One, the most loyal followers are deemed “most loyal” because they never challenge the leader. I don’t advocate for insurrection. But, leaders need to be challenged and they need to be held accountable for their leadership actions.
Two, followship skills are not synonymous with leadership skills. There is significant overlap. But the two skillsets are not interchangeable. Promoting your best sales guy to sales manager is not always the best thing to do.
Three, creating more and more loyal followers goes against one of the basic functions of leaders. That function is to build more leaders, not more followers. But, we must build them with those who are exhibiting leadership potential and the emotional intelligence and agility to actually be great leaders.
Is this really a big problem?
Yes, I believe that it is. My own leadership journey has given me firsthand knowledge of how this manifests itself in the non-profit boardrooms. And my leadership coaching and consulting has given me insights into the struggles that my clients have in asserting their own leadership, retaining good leaders, or finding a way to deal with the inevitability of loyal followers being given leadership roles when they are neither suited to them nor desirous of putting in the hard work of executing the responsibilities of being a leader.
How do we fix this problem?
If you are a senior leader in an organization you must be willing to surround yourselves with folks who are as strong as you are and who have the strength and convictions to tackle the problems that many organizations face today. You need to stop surrounding yourself with “safe” and “friendly” faces. And you need to be prepared to be challenged as never before. If everyone around you is nodding their head in the same direction as your head, then at least one of you is irrelevant.
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