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The Leadership Learning Curve

The Leadership Learning Curve

Does This Sound Familiar?

You take the most successful salesperson in your organization, and you reward them with a promotion to Sales Manager. But, turns out they can’t manage their checking account, let alone your company’s sales team, and just to add insult to injury, your sales slump because you just removed your best performer from the field. As a highly driven sales person, they’re not accustomed to losing. So what do they do? They immediately try to remedy the problem by re-engaging in their old role, trying desperately to sell enough through their own individual effort to compensate for the lost sales of the group and ignoring the entire team of salespeople who are desperately waiting for guidance and support to bolster their own efforts.

At this point, there are a couple different ways this can go—none of them good—but the net result is lower sales, the attrition of key sales team members and an ineffective sales manager who spends their days dreaming, like a character in a Bruce Springsteen video, of the glory days of sales past.


Different Jobs, Different Skill Sets

The lesson here is that managing people is hard. Leading people is even harder because leading entails the right focus on coaching and mentoring your team to ensure their effective growth and development as performers in their own right.

Most good salespeople didn’t start off as superstars. Sure, there are some individuals with prodigious natural talent that just seem born to talk the rest of us into making purchases for things we didn’t even know we wanted. Good for them. But most salespeople—as with any other profession—had to learn their craft the hard way. Why do we believe becoming a good leader should be any different? Why do we believe—and let’s be honest here, we do—that leadership is somehow fundamentally different than any other type of professional role? And that our talent for leadership should magically reveal itself to us, like royal parents to an orphan in a Disney cartoon, when we find ourselves promoted into a leadership role? Learning to lead is hard, and the sooner we accept this and accept that it will take dedicated work to achieve, the quicker we will move toward becoming a good leader. 


Defining Effective Leadership

This naturally begs the question: What do we mean by effective leadership? To be fair, there are probably a number of different answers to this question, but I happen to have some specific characteristics in mind.  

Effective leadership is first and foremost a behavior: it’s an active process that includes spending our time directly engaging with our reports, coaching and developing them to succeed in their roles. In short, “lead” is a verb, and not simply a set of concepts that we pick up over a weekend course at the local chamber of commerce and promptly forget by 8 am on Monday.  


Like a good diet and exercise plan, leadership takes practice to be effective. Through that practice, you begin to see positive changes in how you show up with your team, and the experience they have of you as an instructive and positive presence. Setting goals for our direct reports, creating measurable action plans with them, and establishing an effective program of delegation and follow-up are part of this good leadership approach. These form the foundation for more advanced behaviors that will become critical, as we evolve in our roles and assume more and more leadership responsibility.


A Successful Transition to Leadership

Making the transition from independent contributor to a leader of others is a difficult journey. And because we have been successful in one role does not ensure we will be good in the other. Being honest with ourselves about our learning needs, as well as potential pitfalls, is critical in developing a true roadmap for improvement. Toward this end, a 360 survey, or general assessment feedback, aimed at evaluating our strengths and weaknesses can be helpful in generating the insights and the impetus for real personal development work. But, more than anything, the willingness to exert time and effort to developing your leadership potential is the price of entry toward becoming a truly admirable leader and an effective motivator of people.

Oliver Group has spent thirty years developing successful leaders and helping individuals figure out this complex equation. Let us help you on your journey to becoming what is truly the only relevant part of being a leader: actually leading your people.


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