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If You’re Not There, Neither Are Your People

I spoke to five different sales organizations in January this year. Three of these sales organizations were engaged in a sales transformation. I want to describe the difference between one of those organizations and the two others.

Leaders Engaged

In the first two organizations, the sales leader (at the SVP level) was engaged in the process of selecting me. Those sales leaders scheduled calls to meet with me before I spoke. They were very careful to share with me their intended outcomes. They knew exactly what they needed in the way of a mindset shift and new skill sets.

During later meetings, I was asked to review my slide deck with these leaders. They asked to be walked through the content so they would have a greater subject matter expertise than anyone on their team. They believed they were responsible for leading.

The leaders from these two organizations were visible, engaged, and active during my keynote and workshops. They asked questions. They volunteered answers. In one case, the CEO volunteered to coach the material in front of the people he expected to use it. That made an impact.

Hidden In Plain Sight

Now let’s look at the third organization. The senior sales leadership team wasn’t engaged in selecting me to speak. Even though I asked for a meeting, I was unable to obtain one because the leader was too busy.

As we moved closer to the date of the event, the sales leader wasn’t engaged in the process of sharing their outcomes with me, and they didn’t see anything I was going to present. They trusted me to deliver, and I didn’t let them down. They were very pleased. But I don’t believe the outcome will be the same as the other two sales organizations.

Because the leader was too busy to be engaged, the people that reported to him followed suit. They were too busy to meet, to share with me, or to allow me to share and collaborate with them.

When I spoke, the leaders had meetings elsewhere. It was very visible that the leader wasn’t visible. I watched his salespeople watch him and some of his team leave. They were nowhere near the workshop.

What I Fear

I know this leader and his team were working hard. They’re great people. But I worry.

I worry that by being invisible during the process that they send the unintended message to their team that what we were doing together wasn’t important.

I worry that by not being engaged in the material that they won’t know enough to really help lead the transformation. When the questions and challenges arise, the leader won’t know how to guide the team through the rough spots.

I worry that by visibly leaving the workshop that they signaled that the transformation isn’t all that important. I fear that he and his team were setting the stage for their people to wait them out.

As a leader, if you aren’t there (physically, mentally, and emotionally), your people won’t be there either.



  • Enkata

    “by being invisible during the process that they send the unintended
    message to their team that what we were doing together wasn’t important.”

    Management does set the tone. While not everyone will follow suit, when the manager doesn’t look like they care why should the rest of the team? Corporate culture comes from the top down.

    • Dan S

      I couldn’t agree more. It rings of ‘do as we say, not as we do’. I heard a Sir Ralph Norris speak in NZ around his transformation of ASB Bank’s sales focus. When introducing a new sales programme the first people who were put through it were management as his view was if they can’t or won’t buy in to it, how can they sincerely lead their staff under this framework and some didn’t last as a result. He firmly believed it required company wide engagement and commitment.

      The beginnings of a great sales organisation doesn’t start in the sales force, it starts at C-level.

      I also believe, and have blogged the same, that in business, the hiring of a sales force sometimes has the undesired result management abdicating sales responsibility. Where it should be a case of owning that dog, but still barking loudly yourself.

  • Joe Nunes

    I wonder too. As a leader, I am constantly trying to ‘pick my spots’. I have a tendency to get a little too into the weeds and to micro-manage a little too much. Is it possible that manager three actually got it right? Hired a great sales trainer and gave him the room to do a good job? Sure, being a little more collaborative during the design phase might have optimized the delivery – but maybe that time was used closing some large sales and the final presentation made to the team was still rated ‘excellent’ even without his advance input.

    Funny how our lens of focus changes our perception. I am focused on letting go so I admire executive #3.

  • Mari Anne Vanella

    This is what I look for in new clients. If management isn’t engaged, they are tacitly stating what we are doing isn’t important. If they push it to a low level manager to oversee, same thing. If we worked with a client that isn’t engaged at the top, down-chain is even worse. That is part of the criteria for even working with us, has been for years, that they need to participate in what we are doing. The ones that gladly do it have closed millions of dollars in revenue. So I determine up front if their culture is a match for success.