What you will learn
A career in sales can feel like one chaotic, high-pressure situation after another. As a leader, you can freeze, or you can lead confidently through short-term turmoil and set your team up for long-term success.
The key to the second path looks like this:
- Self-Awareness: It starts with you. You need a high degree of emotional intelligence to calm the fight-or-flight response and take rapid action in high-pressure situations, knowing that failure means an opportunity to learn. This rubs off on young leaders— helping them overcome hesitation and make independent decisions.
- Strategy and Alignment: Establish a common language and operating rhythm to help your team take action and iterate fast. This builds trust and creates a feedback loop for learning.
- Wartime Leadership: By taking immediate action and generating feedback and data, you open up new opportunities. Acknowledge uncertainty, but take the first step- initiate action to increase options and improve adaptability.
- Human Intelligence: As artificial intelligence goes mainstream, human intelligence becomes more important. Using your human intelligence means going beyond logic and tapping into your imagination and emotional connection. You can use stories to surface your tacit knowledge and spread this unique intelligence within your organization.
Time-stamps for the conversation
- [0:05:06] Thriving in high-pressure environments.
- [0:08:47] Lane’s four truths of sales leadership.
- [0:11:41] Priorities, chaos, and imperfect strategies.
- [0:14:56] Brains vs. computers.
- [0:16:59] Creating a feedback loop and galvanizing your team.
- [0:21:03] Candor all around.
- [0:21:58] Activating collective intelligence and team strategy.
- [0:28:06] Innovation, pattern recognition, and trusting your gut.
- [0:30:16] Learning to unfreeze and self-assess as new leaders.
- [0:37:50] Building leverage and rapport with executive-level leadership.
- [0:42:55] Frontline managers are crucial.
- [0:45:38] Developing human intelligence through stories.
- [0:51:23] Q&A.
- [0:54:23] This is only the beginning.
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Our takeaways and reflections
Sales environments are chaotic warzones.
Conflicting priorities, cash shortages, quotas approaching…
Sales is a game of short-term priorities, won by slowing down and taking a long-term approach to building a winning team.
I sat down with Lane Brannan and Angus Fletcher to discuss a way out of the cycle. A way to deliver immediate results while building a culture of preparedness, curiosity, and adaptability. A way to gather the tribal knowledge that exists in your team and spread it throughout your organization. A way to create a culture that allows for leadership at every level.
Frontline managers and sales leaders are the most important roles for navigating this chaos.
Lane shared four critical questions you can use to pursue exceptional sales performance:
- Do you have a written strategy that anchors the organization, even if it is imperfect?
- Have you ensured people understand and connect to the strategy, attracted the right individuals, and addressed detractors?
- Have you agreed on performance indicators and data with a structured cadence for decision-making?
- Do you have a pipeline of deals to provide long-term stability for the sales team?
These questions and the following stories from the sales trenches provide a backdrop for you to follow four steps to leadership excellence:
- Self-Awareness: calming the fight-or-flight response and developing emotional intelligence as a sales leader.
- Strategy and Alignment: establishing a common language and operating rhythm to help teams move swiftly and effectively.
- Wartime Leadership: preparedness, a bias for action, vulnerability, and leading by example.
- Human Intelligence: using stories to surface your tacit knowledge and spread this uniquely valuable intelligence throughout your team.
Let’s get started.
It all starts with you. New leaders who struggle the most haven’t learned to self-assess, calm their own fight-or-flight responses, or improve their emotional intelligence.
“The aura that you carry is something that people will follow. So how do you slow things down for you and your team?” – Lane Brannan
You need to set an example by both taking action and allowing your team to fail so they can develop independence.
There is a struggle and reward to being a mentor to new leaders:
“There’s so much goodness in promoting folks that don’t necessarily have it on paper. But if they’ve got a body of work with you and you can see it, then you get so much out of promoting them because there’s a level of will and energy.” – Lane Brannan
It’s great to hire a leader that is better in their field than you are – but as Lane said, “the employee/leadership product that you can help to shape is fantastic.”
Strategy and Alignment
Next, you want to have a strategy on paper, but not stick too rigidly to the plan. It’s a fine balance between strategy and tactics.
Lane once accepted a role in a company that had recently made some short-term decisions that burned cash and put them in need of results, fast. He was up against the wall with the board right away.
The first thing he did was walk himself through the four questions I shared earlier, starting with strategy.
A strategy doesn’t need to be perfect, but you need to have a strategy. It can be as simple as saying: we’re starting from the premise of sustainable revenue. This is
- Broad and flexible enough to maneuver.
- Specific enough to start excluding things and launching others.
If you have a strategy (and you believe in it), you’ll make the people around you believe it. Strategy is the big picture.
“Getting people to agree on the big picture allows you a lot of flexibility on the tactics for the small picture.” – Angus Fletcher
In uncertain times, leaders need to be vulnerable but proactive. People aren’t waiting to hear a master plan that will solve every problem. They’re waiting to hear a leader say, “I am going to make this work.”
With a strategy on paper, you must have the courage to take the first step. Once you establish momentum and gather data, you can start developing a pipeline for long-term stability.
It took two quarters for Lane and his team to establish a rhythm and feel the galvanizing effect of success. “It was the right feeling, but man, you’ve gotta fight to get it there.”
And fight he did – Lane shared a personal story of struggling to achieve that right feeling. He had to fire a good friend to get there.
As a leader, you have to make tough decisions. Lane’s decision demonstrated that the mission was more important than any one person, and his actions reflected his goal of creating an environment of speed, chemistry, candor, and success.
“What builds a sense of trust in candor is when you are clearly open to be questioned. […] “Ask me a hard question.” That is the definition of vulnerability. […] When the locus of control shifts, ownership shifts.” – Angus Fletcher
Putting ideas in motion and receiving closed-loop feedback from people you’ve come to trust is the magic recipe for the next chapter and the ones that follow.
Wartime leadership requires a bias to action. A simple adage from the military does this point justice: trust your common sense. A big part of successful leadership is the courage to do the obvious thing and not “vapor locking” as many new leaders do.
Leaders walk toward problems, find the source, and start fixing.
The final piece of the puzzle is your team, and here is where chemistry becomes crucial.
Chemistry begins by getting people into roles they’re good at and passionate about. Beyond that, chemistry comes from how you assemble your team.
Consequences are dire: as Amy Volas would say, if you miss at the senior leadership level, you have a powerful and knowledgeable person that can throw things way off. But when the chemistry is right, the energy and impending success are palpable.
Good leaders are more effective at building chemistry. They demonstrate curiosity and empathy, surface interesting and unique qualities hidden in some employees, and then flag them for other employees. Advanced leadership is playing matchmaker.
It all comes down to genuine curiosity and care for your employees. You can’t expect to manipulate people into working with one another (or for you).
This brings us back to the importance of frontline managers adopting these behaviors and qualities.
“The frontline manager is hands-down the most important role in the organization. If they are connected and they’re doing these things that we’ve talked about – there is chemistry, there is an attachment to a strategy, they feel involved in it and they can help iterate on it – then they literally carry that aura into their teams.”
If you’re a frontline manager reading this, realize and understand your importance to the organization. Also, understand that when you turn your experience into a teachable moment for others, you are doing your company a huge service.
There is unique intelligence in every organization. The first thing to do is to make proper use of the tribal knowledge of your team (like Lane has done for us) through stories.
Share stories with your team and then ask them to think like leaders. Authentic stories grip people’s imagination and emotions. Soon they start to think like leaders do. Authentic stories don’t shy away from failure.
True, meaningful, shared stories help shape a culture that allows for ownership throughout.
Ultimately, to be a great leader, you must internalize two things:
1. You can’t do this alone.
“Find a community. Surround yourself with people with whom you can have these kinds of conversations and put yourself in a better situation than you were yesterday. There are no shortcuts here. There’s no silver bullet. It’s about leaning in and practicing some of the right philosophies. But lean in and get after it as a leader. It is a journey, a real journey.” – Lane Brannan
2. You have the answers inside you.
“The answer lies inside. Whether you’re an individual or an organization, you have to surface that knowledge because you’re smarter than you know.” – Angus Fletcher
This conversation was just the beginning.
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