Leaders are supposed to be great at inspiring us, having vision, creating strategy, and developing teams. But salespeople…really? Heck, yes.
It used to be that people got jobs, showed up for work every day for thirty years, dealt with poor leaders when they had to, and retired more or less satisfied with their contribution to the world.
In case you didn't already notice, those days are over. Not only it is the norm for most people to work for multiple companies throughout their careers, but also the perspective of the next generation has changed. New hires want immediate gratification, and when they don't get it, they leave. Today's leaders often shake their heads (I know I have) when we see this happen and blame this crazy next generation of workers with their issues of entitlement. It's a cop-out.
The problem is that many leaders don't have a clue what's going on until it's way too late. They don't know what the 25 year-old single mother who's been working for them for three months really wants out of her career. They don't get that the kid right out of college would actually work a lot harder on the current project if he knew how it would help him start a business someday. They don't understand why the over-achieving employee suddenly leaves for a job that seems eerily similar to what he's doing now.
Leaders need to be salespeople. Real salespeople. Salespeople that take the time to listen to their employees. Salespeople that understand what they are saying and hearing what they aren't saying. Salespeople that can link goals with the skills they are learning in their current job.
People make decisions with the information they have. If you want the people you lead to make decisions with a long-term perspective, here are key skills you need:
1 – Listen: You have to make time for it. 20 minutes over a performance review once every six months isn't going to cut it. Once a month is better. Once a week is ideal. Set aside time where you won't be disturbed. Find out what's really going on. Ask good questions. Be quiet.
2 – Summarize: Let people know that you've heard them. Once they've talked, summarize what they've said. (This shocks people.) Few people listen well anymore…and so no one believes that you did listen until you show that you did. Don't be cocky about it – but demonstrate that they were heard.
3 – Reframe: The employee who has the task of ordering supplies and wants to start her own business someday needs to see how the two connect. That's your job. The leader has perspective and can see that learning to manage inventory and keep expenses down will be a valuable skill for a business owner. She doesn't see it…but you do. You need to link the two. You need to be the one that reframes her thinking.
These three steps are simple, but hard. Listening is hard. Reframing is hard. Get people to help you. Find others with experience who can help you put the pieces together when you can't. Nobody expects you to have all the answers…but you need to learn to sell if you expect to lead people over the long-term.