Monday, 23 May 2016

What Leader’s Do

If you feel a sense of accomplishment for doing the work that someone you lead should be doing, then you may be addicted to firefighting work that gives you a sense of accomplishment. It’s more likely, however, that you are really avoiding the difficult decisions and the difficult work that you are responsible for as the leader.

Leaders are stewards of the future. If you aren’t working on the future because you are spending the majority of your time on today, then you are putting that future in doubt.



If you aren’t working on your biggest strategic opportunities and your most difficult systemic challenges, then those opportunities are at risk, and the bottlenecks created by systemic problems will mire everyone down in day-to-day firefighting.

As a leader, you are responsible for doing the work of the leader first and foremost. It cannot take a backseat to work that someone else can and should be doing.

The Leadership Playbook

Leaders can very easily and unknowingly fall into a trap. Without even recognizing that they have done so, they can become addicted to doing urgent and important work that really belongs to someone on their team. By allowing themselves to get mired down in day-to-day operational issues that belong to someone else, they deprive themselves of the time they need to deal with the strategic work that their role requires of them.

If the leader isn’t dealing with strategic needs and systemic challenges, no one is.


Your people bring you their challenges because they need your insight. Because the work is important, you decide you need to dig in and help your people do this work. You want to lead by example, and you want your people to know that no one is about whatever needs to be done—especially the leader. Rather than giving directions on what you believe the outcome of the important task must be, you do the work, depriving your employee of the opportunity to grow and learn, and possibly creating a dependent.



If you are doing work that isn’t the highest value-creating work you can do as a leader but instead doing work that belongs to someone else, it is a warning sign.


Why are you doing the work that someone else should be doing?

Maybe you mis-hired, and the person in that role isn’t capable of doing the work themselves. That poor decision has now led to another poor decision, namely taking you out of your role as the leader.

Perhaps you have allowed someone you like very much, but who also happens to have a case of learned helplessness, to put their work on your plate without you recognizing it.

It’s more likely that you don’t even know you’ve abdicated your leadership responsibilities.

Assuming Good Intentions

You don’t have to be happy when people make mistakes. But you do have to help them learn from their mistakes.

When you assume good intentions, you reinforce the idea that you expect the person you lead to take action and make good decisions. You reinforce that you expect initiative and resourcefulness. And you expect them to be open to the coaching that will help them understand how to make better decisions once they have a deeper understanding and more information.




If you understand people you realize that most of us aren’t here to cause problems – most of us want to be part of the solution. The way you treat the people who work for you may mean the difference between someone who believes they can make a difference, and someone who simply wants to stay out of trouble. Who would you rather have working for you?


Assuming Bad Intentions

When you assume bad intentions, you believe something about the person who made the mistake that is rarely true. When you treat mistakes like they are intentional, you are treating the person who made that mistake unfairly. You are accusing them of something of which they are not guilty.




When you assume bad intentions and punish the person who made the mistake, you may get fewer mistakes. You also get an employee who is afraid to take initiative and unwilling to use their own resourcefulness to take independent action and make decisions. This is how you manufacture engaged employees who end up being dependents. You are creating employees who wait for your permission to do the job you hired them to do.

Assuming Intentions

Most of the people who work for you are not intentionally trying to do poor work. They aren’t trying to fail in their role, and they aren’t trying to make mistakes. Very few of them are acting on some malicious intention to do harm to the business, nor is it their intention to harm themselves.

Most of the time, and there are exceptions, people are acting out of good intentions.



That employee who called the client to explain in a somewhat impolitic manner that the problem they are having is their own fault wasn’t trying to make them angry. Their intention was to help the client see that what they are doing isn’t working, even if they lacked the diplomacy and relationship to have that conversation.

The employee who spent more money on the marketing campaign than he should have, mistakenly believing that if a little is good than a lot is better, wasn’t trying to be reckless or wasteful. His intentions were to drive leads to the business and help the company grow.

The Only Question You Need for an Accurate Forecast

There is only one way to ensure that you have an accurate sales forecast. You don’t need software, and you don’t need dozens and dozens of questions. A single question will suffice to provide you with all you need to know about the accuracy of your forecast. That question is this:

“What date did the prospective customer select for their ‘go live’ date and why?”


Closed dates are relatively meaningless. Anything with a month ending date should be discounted on principle. Your prospective clients don’t select a “go live” date or a “deal ink” date by looking at the last day of the month.

If the last day of the month is bad, then the last day of the quarter is even worse. The last day of the quarter is a day only sales organizations care about. Your prospective client did not choose that date, and the one thing you can predict with absolute certainty is that they have no idea that the last day of the quarter is the foretasted close date in your CRM.




The stages in your sales force automation software are meaningless. It doesn’t matter whether the stage is negotiation or acquisition or some other stage deep in the sales process. Regardless of what the stage is indicated in your CRM, the customer is still controlling the date the deal closes. You can’t close without them.

The percentages attached to your stage are also meaningless. First of all, they probably do not reflect an accurate percentage based on stage if you were to look at your past wins and losses. Second, an opportunity with two competitors has only a 50 percent chance of winning; it can’t be 90 percent. The stage of your sales process is not a particularly accurate indicator.

The Only Date That Matters

If you expect the customer to close on a certain date, shouldn’t they be aware of that date? Are they going to be surprised when you ask them for their business and show up with a contract and a pen? Should they not have something on their calendar indicating that they are signing a deal or going live with your solution?

Could you acquire and agree on a date and still not have an opportunity close on time? Absolutely. But if you want forecast accuracy, you ask for the date to which the customer has agreed.

How to Give Up Non-Deals

The only reason you keep working on deals you know you don’t have a real chance of closing is because you don’t have real opportunities with which to replace them. In order to rid yourself of time-wasting non-deals, you need to replace them with real opportunities.

Massively Increase Your Prospecting Efforts

There isn’t any way to create more opportunities that doesn’t require you spend more time and more energy prospecting. You cannot create new opportunities until you develop new relationships.

The more prospecting you do, the more relationships you develop, and the more opportunities you will create. The faster you do the necessary prospecting work, the faster you will produce the opportunities that allow you to ditch non-opportunities.



Vary Your Approach and Use All Methods and Tools

Some of your prospective clients will respond to your phone call, cold, warm, or whatever. Others will respond to a LinkedIn connection. A small few may respond to an email request for a meeting, if it’s personal and value creating.

The best place to start is referrals. The second best place to start is with deals that you lost in competitive situations in the past.

There is no plan that includes waiting for inbound marketing or lead generation to do this work for you. You need to consistently use every method and every tool available.

Build a Serious Plan to Nurture Your Dream Clients

The problem with acting with a great sense of urgency is that it can be sporadic and undisciplined. There are some prospects for whom you need a proactive, disciplined, professionally persistent approach. These are your dream clients.

A nurture plan is a blueprint for contacting your best prospects over time using a campaign. That campaign starts with a message that creates value for your dream client. That might be a blog post, white paper, or case study. That content is followed up with a phone call.

Your nurture plan can be written in advance and used to pursue the small number of your very best prospects over the course of a year. You will get some of these dream clients to respond and engage with you. You will win some of them. Those will be your best deals and the best use of your time. But you still have to prospect and for other opportunities while you are nurturing your dream clients.

Why You Must Own Your Losses

The human mind is an interesting thing. It is powerful beyond belief, yet riddled with all kinds of viruses that will harm you if left unchecked. To protect your ego, your mind will come up with ways to rationalize your failures, even rationalizing your behavior when you wrong another person. But by protecting your ego and absolving yourself of responsibility, your ability to rationalize can destroy your results.

You Lost the Deal

You may rationalize a deal lost to a competitor by telling yourself that it wasn’t a straight up contest, that they dropped their price to a level at which no one could really serve the customer, let alone do so at a profit. You may not want to believe that you were outsold, but you were. You failed to make the case that the value of your solution was worth paying your higher price. Or you may have failed to identify the prospect as a price buyer or disqualified them early.



You can rationalize away a lost deal by believing that your prospective client didn’t really understand the value of your solution, how you are different, and why you would be the better choice. The outcome of selling is to create a preference for you and your solution. You didn’t create that preference. “But wait,” you protest, “that prospect didn’t even give me a fair chance to compete. My competitor had unfettered access to everyone on the buying team.” Whose job is it to gain access to the stakeholders you need inside your prospective client’s company?

Everything Is Your Fault

Everything is your fault. If you lost, then you own the loss.

The problem with rationalizing lost deals, mistakes, and missteps, is that it disempowers you. It robs you of your ability to do something different when faced with the same situation in the future. It means that the world is acting on you and there is nothing you can do about it.

One of the most dangerous infections you can suffer from is the belief that you are powerless to do something different to produce a better result. The linchpin human attribute, the one attribute that enables so many of the others, is resourcefulness. Because creativity is limitless, given a long enough timeline, human beings overcome every obstacle they encounter.

A growth mindset allows you to own your failures and mistakes, to learn from them, and to come up with a new strategy or tactic.

You know your competitor is going to compete by lowering their price so low that you dare not follow them. So you start teaching your prospective clients to expect lower prices and also to expect the poor results that come with under-investing in the solution they need. You make them a list of areas where the investments will be cut to get to those lower prices, and show them how it hurts their results. You leave a minefield behind you for your low price selling competitor to walk into.

You know you need stakeholders to compete fairly. So you “go there” and ask for access as early in the process as you can. If you are rejected, you push back, explaining that you can’t do your best work without access. If your prospective client refuses, you know you are column fodder and you move on to a better opportunity. Or you have your executive team work their executive team.

When you own your losses, you empower yourself to make better choices in the future. Everything is your fault, which means you have the power to do something different.