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You Are the Leader. Blaming Your Company Makes You Less.

If you work for a company long enough the policies will change (for some companies this can feel like a seasonal occurrence). The strategy may change. The product may change. Policies may change. The people will surely change. And, if you’re in sales, you know that the compensation structure is going to get tweaked from time to time.

These changes can be disruptive. Some of them can be even be perceived as being negative and can be unpopular with your people.

Because you care deeply about your company and your people, you can oppose changes to policy while they are being discussed and developed. You can argue with your leadership about what you believe would be more effective and still accomplish the necessary outcomes. But after the decisions are made, blaming the company and intimating to your people that you disagree with the policy makes you less of a leader.

Unintentional Undermining

Even if the policy isn’t good, suggesting to your people that you disagree with the policy and that you are only “doing what corporate is making me do,” undermines the policy. Mostly this is an attempt to deflect the blame and the bad feelings from you to “the company.”

Even though you wouldn’t intentionally undermine the policy, the net result is that you reinforce the belief that the policy is negative and that your executive team makes poor decisions—or intentionally damaging decisions (the first of which is sometimes true, the latter far less frequently).

You set the standard.

What’s wrong with letting blame lie with those who deserve it?

As a leader, you set and keep the standard your people follow. By deflecting the negativity, by making it known that you disagree, you are giving tacit approval to your people disregard the policy.

Here’s a quick example. Your company has an activity quota. Let’s say it’s ten face-to-face sales calls per week. You believe it’s too high. Your salespeople believe it’s too high. When confronted by your salespeople, you say: “Yes, I believe the activity quota is too high, too.” Now your salespeople believe that you believe that the quota is unfair, and many will use your agreement that it’s bad policy to avoid doing what is required and expected of them. The worst of them will use your own words as an excuse not to try, and they will use your own words against you.

By making it “corporate’s standard,” it is no longer “your standard.” If you want to lead your people, you have to set the standard.

What do you say instead? You say: “It’s our strategy to be in front of our customers and to go to them where they live. It’s critical that we make face-to-face sales calls in order to achieve our company’s objectives, as well as our team objectives. It’s not easy to make ten face-to-face sales calls a week. But we are going to do it. We are going to work together and we are going to meet our goals. What ideas do you have that will help us to do so?”

Now it’s your standard. Now your people are accountable to you. They also know that you are a counting on them to follow your standard and to bring their resourcefulness to bear on the problem.

Two caveats

First, bad decisions are bad decisions. Sometimes good decisions feel like bad decisions at first, especially when you don’t have all the information and you don’t quite understand them. If a decision is illegal or immoral, you are right to refuse to follow the decision, and you are right to resign rather than lead.

Second, none of this is to suggest that you aren’t supposed to oppose the decisions that you believe will harm your company and your team. But to do so, you can make your case to management privately; you don’t make your case for management with your people. If you do so, you are obligated to also bring your own resourcefulness to bear on the issue and bring your leadership better ideas that will achieve the outcome they need.

Questions

Why is it wrong to avoid ownership of unpopular decisions and unpopular policy changes?

What affect does avoiding ownership of policy and quotas have on your people’s perceptions of you as a leader?

You have to fight for your people, and they have to know that you will go to bat for them. How do you do so without undermining your leadership team?

When you believe your leadership is making a poor decision, how are you most effective in advocating for your people and making change?


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Comments

comments

  • http://brettcohrs.com Brett

    Culture is such an important thing in an organization. Seems to me this type of leadership is key in encouraging quality culture. I could get anecdotal, but it’s probably a better idea to keep my comment theoretical. Middle leadership and even high-performing, influential members without leadership ‘positions’ who are critical, complaining, and blaming can seriously damage culture and productivity. 

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Experience is a great teacher, if not harsh in her methods!

  • Craig

    As in parenting, leading requires moving your charges in the right direction, not just to be their friend. While the letter of the policy in your example is debatable, the spirit is definitely not. Often policies reflect an attempt to reverse a trend of substandard practices in some, but not all quarters. From the distance of “the field,” it is easy to diminish “Corporate” policy and slip into poor practice. But in doing so you lessen your credibility. As a manager and leader, a key skill is to present policy in the best way, tailored to your group, to comply and exceed expectations.

    Seldom are best practices defined because “Corporate says so.” Best practices, in reality, are defined by those professionals who get the best results. And surely, in this example, 10 face to face customer meetings are a minimum expectation for best results. And leading on best practices and holding accountability to best performance is what good leadership and management is all about. Are there exceptions for a short duration? Certainly. Is there any reason to believe that maximizing face to face presence with customers is a bad thing? Certainly not.

    As a peer leader or manager, by undermining policy, you undermine your credibility up and down the chain. And credibility is what separates leaders from functionaries.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Craig. I love your closing line: “Credibility is what separates leaders from functionaries.” I am keeping that one! 

  • http://www.be-influential.com/ Blake Cavignac

    “If you want to lead your people, you have to set the standard.” 

    Great line Anthony and it is one I live by daily to help me set the expectations for what I expect of my team.Before I made the decision to run my own company, I had the privilege of working for a remarkable leader.  Although I didn’t always agree with his direction or decisions, I always put in great effort to make him look good.  I would do whatever it took to make sure that the decision he made was a right one (even if I disagreed).  At the time I was responsible for managing over 20+ interns.  If any one of those interns thought the expectations of our leader were to high it was critical that I make the leaders standards, my standards.  Oftentimes these high standards would be met and we would all be better for it.

    Accomplishing what you once thought you could never accomplish is one of the most rewarding experiences in life and great leaders make it happen everyday.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your story here, Blake. I love your conclusion: Great leaders have the power to help people accomplish more than they ever thought possible. True! And critically important! 

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  • http://www.invokeselling.com/ Michael Scott

    great tips on improving how to think as a sales person and a sales manager – if we have the mindset that we will overcome any challenge, internal or external: we can lead a team that does not dwell on what’s wrong, but rather problem solve to bring in new business