- Be a continuous learner – what got you into the CRO role won’t keep you there.
- Create a culture of innovation – willingness to try new things without the fear of failure.
- Demonstrate teamwork and camaraderie – people will watch and observe your behavior before they act.
- Focus on the people – this means getting to know your colleagues beyond their quotas.
- Be authentic – this equals consistency and predictability. Wild mood swings are often due to people transitioning from their “real” self to their created façade.
- Be vulnerable – show you’re human, it’s okay.
- Confront reality – denial wrecks your credibility. Quotas are huge, don’t act like they’re no big deal.
- Provide a path to success – it may be a difficult path but a path none the less. Remember, the leader’s job is to provide the vision…the possibilities.
- Be honest – shoot straight, share what you can, not only what you must.
- Always have an active ear – listen…actively. People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know.
- Never surprise your boss – understand what’s important to the CEO and how/when to best communicate.
- Be deliberate in your actions – an environment of uncertainty is a byproduct of hedging bets. Your team will know if you’re not all in.
- Be kind – nothing in this job should justify taking someone’s dignity.
- Be gracious – say thank you. Give credit and recognize people consistently.
- Look for the good – every day find a good deed, or success from a colleague, and then share it.
- Know your numbers – where are you this month to quota, next month, and quarter standings.
- Know your business – what external factors may arise to get in the way of achieving your goals and those of your colleagues?
- Always be planning – “In preparing for battle I have always found plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Stay fit – CROs tend to be the heartbeat of a company. Work hard to have and maintain a healthy heartbeat.
- Always, always, remember (and thank) those who helped you arrive – family, friends, former bosses, mentors. No one gets to where they’re going totally alone
The Leaders List of Critical Books to Read
Curiosity is a key competency for those looking to grow and lead. Curiosity about a business, its industry, people, customers, competitors, investors, are all necessary to excel in today’s high speed world of hyper-competition. There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity including doing, reading, researching, and interviewing.
Unfortunately for many, reading takes the very last seat in the back, with the most common excuse I hear for not reading – “who has the time?” To which my response is, “Apparently only the highest of high performers.” What exactly are you willing to invest in improving yourself and your skills? How much time? How much money? How much of your freedom? Why freedom? Because, when others are using their freedom to golf, ski, hit the bar, head to the gym, or sleep on that cross-country flight, you’re using your freedom to expand your knowledge base and perspective.
Whether you’ve been a leader for a year, or twenty, we all experience ups, downs, wins, losses, triumphs, and failures. One thing I’d say is that your top reads will almost always be driven by your immediate, or anticipated circumstances. My suggestion is to have a stable of those books identified and ready to go. In addition, practicing the habit of self-reflection will also super-charge your results when combined with building your arsenal of perspectives through reading.
If you’re wondering how much to read, I simply say, get started. Everyone’s pace is different. Some like turning pages, others like reading on a tablet, and still others prefer listening via audiobooks. No matter your preference, just start. Set a goal. Pick a book and set a goal to complete it within 2 weeks. Two weeks is a good timeframe to get through a book that’s between 250 – 300 pages once placed into your routine. Make no mistake, a routine it must be.
A few thoughts before revealing the list of critical reads for all leaders…first, all leaders need financial acumen. However, most of us, unless you were classically trained, have learned while doing. This doesn’t make for a very strong financial foundation. Public companies view the world quite differently from privately held companies, or even more specifically those owned by private equity.
Second, to be a great leader you must learn and understand what it means to follow. This means that all great leaders take the time to learn as much as they can. If you don’t have a very healthy dose of curiosity, then find one quickly. Your leadership life span will be limited by the depth of knowledge you acquire and accumulate as it relates to your business and the industry.
Lastly, conduct regular assessments on your personal performance. Find a number of folks who will be brutally honest with you about your style, your results, your core competencies. Play to your strengths and stop dwelling on your weaknesses.
Here is a list of the top reads for all leaders:
- Financial Intelligence and Valuation are two of the best books written to help leaders understand what’s important to your investors, lenders, and Board. Situational awareness is critical, so get to know and understand your business’s key financial metrics. What are they? What drives them? How do they behave over time, or under certain conditions?
- Failing Forward is one of the best “get your head straight” books I’ve read. Written more than a decade ago, the teachings of this book still apply and help to keep things in perspective. Other strong additions include: Unfu*k Yourself, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k, The No Asshole Rule, and On Speaking Well.
- To build your problem solving skills be sure to read Power Questions, The McKinsey Engagement, The McKinsey Mind, The Ultimate Consultant, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, Judgement, The Customer Mindset, and Transparency are all solid books to help you inform your thinking through a combination of asking better questions, quickly assessing different situations.
- Establishing your leadership style happens over time, as well as through the circumstances in which you experience. Some of the greatest insights have come from coaches, world leaders, and history in general. Check out the following books that all have strong leadership lessons: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, John Adams, Wooden on Leadership, The House of Dimon, The Last Man Standing, 1776, Solider: The Life of Colin Powell, His Excellency, Forged in Crisis, Quiet Strength, On the Brink, and Team of Rivals.
- Finally, all great leaders are curious about other success stories. What made one company great, while another failed? Understanding the concept of best practices, or at least those practices that helped enable success within a specific corporate culture, are a strong part of a leader’s development. Consider the following books: The Nordstrom Way, Hershey, Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS, Inside Steve’s Brain, Disney U, and Built Not Born.
Growing Through Adversity
Positive growth can happen even under the toughest of conditions. Perseverance, determination, and the ability to adapt are what’s needed to push through the challenges and capture the growth that’s yours. New skills, new perspectives, new ideas.
As I walked around our property today I saw this beautiful petunia growing in-between some pavers. Oddly this is not a flower we have planted anywhere on our property, yet here it is. With temperatures in the high 90’s this past week, and no rain or water, seeing this thing of beauty grow in the most difficult conditions made me realize how possible growth is in any environment.
It reminds me of the line in Jurassic Park – “Life will find a way.” You really can do anything you set your mind to.
Thoughts on Leadership
“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.
Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.
People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.
Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.
Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis
Kindness – The Greatest Difference Maker
What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?
In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?
There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.
Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.
Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?
Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.
Business – it’s all personal
Business exists to serve peoples needs. It doesn’t matter if you work for a B2B, or B2C company. Somewhere downstream in the process, is a consumer who is making a decision to buy a product or service you make, or contribute to making.
Business is very personal. Only people can care, a business cannot. A business may be a culmination of caring people but by itself, a business is nothing more than an idea. People bring ideas to life. People bring passion to their work and workplace. People bring thoughtfulness and caring for one another and a community. That all happens with people. A business can only serve as a conduit to deliver what the collection of these people express.
When I hear “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, I would say, it’s all personal. People give their most valuable asset they have to a business…their time. With that time they could invest it elsewhere to generate different returns. With their families, with other businesses, other ideas, other objectives. It is a trade-off. Yet once that trade-off is made, an individual is committing themselves – their person – to the business. This is how business gets done, and it becomes very personal.
Empathy is a key emotion to bridge the gap between business and personal. Why? Because time is the only thing that binds us all together. We all have a set amount of sand in our hourglass. When it’s gone it’s gone. Take some of your sand, and use it with others at work to demonstrate that you hear them, you understand their challenges, and you have ideas to share that can help them. By doing this you add value. And while no one can put more sand into anyone’s hourglass, we can all put a little value into each other’s lives…in, and outside, of business.
Selling with Silence
I enjoy a good conversation as much as the next guy or gal. A highly engaging and thoughtful conversation where both sides are equally sharing their ideas, and feelings is something to value. Likewise, I also enjoy the comfort of being with people I care about and not feeling like I have to say a word. I’m comfortable with silence.
Being comfortable with silence is a skill. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, like any skill, silence needs to be practiced in order to be effective. It requires trust, honesty, and perhaps most importantly confidence.
Sales people by nature are talkers. In fact, sales people often have a reputation of being slick talkers. Talk fast enough that you over-power, or blow past the buyer’s objections, tough questions, or key concerns. However, a fast talking sales person is actually communicating the wrong message. Buyers get turned off by fast talkers. They become suspicious. They become guarded in their responses, and many times they tune out, and walk away.
Great sales professionals understand the power of silence. The power that comes with feeling confident in your message, your answers, your position, your knowledge. Knowing when to be silent, versus when to speak, is a critical skill all sales people should develop, assuming they want to improve their win rates.
The buyer asks a question, the sales person responds, and then silence. You’re almost begging the buyer to challenge you. Your silence is a display of your confidence and conviction. It also shows the buyer a level of patience and empathy by giving them time to absorb your response and determine their next step. You’re putting the control in the buyer’s hands. And while some may argue that the sales person should maintain control, I’d argue that by granting the buyer some control, the sales person is actually increasing his/her control of the sales and buying process.
Silence can be the ultimate neutralizer. High stakes negotiators recognize the strategic benefit of using silence. Yet keep in mind, that using silence as a tactic requires a great deal of preparation. You need to understand your company, your product, your position, and your buyer. Drop the ball on any one of those and the value of silence is diminished.
Next time you engage in a sales conversation, force yourself to be silent. Can you do it? Can you sell with silence?
Why Your Role as Sales Leader Isn’t to Motivate
Many people think “cheerleader” when they envision an effective sales leader. Someone who gets the team fired up, screams and shouts, and sets everyone on a rah-rah march into the field to meet prospects.
The sales leader is expected to be a high-powered extrovert, charismatic, outspoken, aggressive, and perhaps even a bit shocking. We have all worked for sales leaders that possess these characteristics and shall I dare say, some other, more wild ones to say the least.
Early in my career I worked for such a sales leader. He’d stand on a chair or a table during sales meetings screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red. The hair on the back of your neck would stand on end. You were pumped. There was nothing you couldn’t do. But when he finished his super-charged motivational speech, the result felt more like a tirade than an inspiration. There’s an enormous distance between rallying a group with fear versus inspiration.
So what is the sales leaders responsibility as it relates to motivating a sales team?
Are you ready for the answer? None. You have no responsibility to motivate your team. Each sales person on your team is responsible for motivating him, or herself. So what is your job as the sales leader? Provide vision and inspiration.
People want to follow a leader who demonstrates the confidence that he knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and why getting there is so important and beneficial. I’ve built a number of sales teams over the years. I have worked hard to be an inspiration – doing this provides your team members with the “why” should they do what you’re asking them to do. Inspiration transcends motivation. You can motivate for an hour or a day but motivation is time constrained. It lasts only as long as the instigator – you – are on duty. But to inspire, creates a fire, that burns deep into desire. The greater the fire you build the more insatiable the desire is to achieve the goals you’ve set – whether you’re around or not.
Your job is to find out what drives your team. Is it money? Is it recognition? Is it invention or innovation? Is it client engagement scores? Once you know what drives each person on the team you will be able to create your inspiration roadmap. That roadmap will provide a clear picture to:
- Where are we going?
- Why are we going there?
- What’s in it for us?
- What will we feel once we’ve arrived there?
Most organizations fail due to a lack of clarity around the vision. You’ve got to assemble a team that WANTS to a be a part of your vision. Trying to convince someone they will be happy going to Buffalo in the winter probably won’t sell. You can expend all your energy convincing or you can set out to find those who are interested or intrigued with going to Buffalo. It’s the Good to Great philosophy of getting the right people on the bus and the right butts in the right seat.
Lead by example. Walk the talk. Model the behaviors. Do these things and you’ll increase your ability to inspire your followers to achieve remarkable results.
Your Ability To Change Determines Success or Failure
Our ability to change determines our probability to succeed. Of course success has many definitions. Success may look like a college degree, a new car, losing weight, obtaining financial freedom, paying down debt, finding a new job, rescuing an animal, raising money for a nonprofit, starting a business, or growing a business.
No matter what you’re doing in life, your ability to manage change, embrace change, affect change, and ultimately lead change will determine the outcomes you produce. When people fail to change they don’t grow. They don’t expand their knowledge, or insights, or perspectives. They remain static within a dynamic world. When businesses fail to change the results can be stressful and sometimes catastrophic. Downsizing, layoffs, reorganizations, increased leverage, bankruptcy, and in worst case scenarios complete shut downs happen due to a failure in the ability to change.
How can you prepare for change?
- Read more, and if you’re not reading at all, get started. Create a mix of categories including business, leadership, inspiration, fiction, and history. There is so much to learn from others who have come before us, as those who are currently on their own journey.
- Conduct a personal self-assessment. What are your strengths? Stop worrying about your weaknesses. Play to your strengths. In baseball, pitchers are known for having a perfect pitch. Could be their fastball, curve, slider, etc. Perfect your strengths so much so that your weaknesses are irrelevant.
- Find a mentor. Someone who will be brutally honest with you about you. A great mentor will help you become more self-aware. They can identify blind spots. Blind spots may or may not be weaknesses. The key is to understand what they are, where they are, and when they show up. A blind spot may be how your temper flares when things don’t go your way. Once you’ve identified the blind spot you can work on techniques that can help change your behaviors.
- Accept who you are. Sometimes the changes required to go from Point A to Point B do not align with your “who”. Don’t settle. When you attempt to do things that don’t align with who you are authentically, you will create stress in your life, and in the lives of others. Be happy with who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Once you’ve accepted who you are you can chose those situations or activities that excite you from a change perspective. If you love turnarounds but hate mature businesses, don’t force a change to work at a mature business. You love the excitement of turning something around. Chose to do that and whatever changes you’ll face in a turnaround situation you’ll embrace and thrive upon.
- Reflection time. Build time into each day to reflect. Just 15 minutes each day will help you sort through what happened, how you acted, and the outcomes. More than likely you’ll arrive at the realization that a different action would have created a different reaction. It’s cause and effect. Take the time to think about your day, those you encountered, and what took place.
- Ask for help. Change is tough. Even if you’re changing an area that excites you, inspires you, and motivates you, chances are it also scares you. Going through change alone is even scarier. Having a strong support network is critical. Family, friends, mentors, leaders and teammates can help you with change. I also personally believe that having a strong spiritual belief and faith provides a sense of calm during the storms of change.
Having a beginners attitude is a difference maker for great leaders. They approach life with curiosity, questions, intrigue. They believe anything is possible. They’re not afraid to try new things. Their interest in learning and exploring is genuine, and it sends a strong signal to others who have a passion for innovation and invention, acting like a magnet. These are the leaders that attract the best and brightest talent.
Real leaders are always preparing. They are in constant “getting ready” mode. They are always “on their way”, having not yet arrived, and as far as they’re concerned they never will. In fact they believe if they finally do arrive it’s game over. They never settle. They never check the “all done” box. Real leaders are constantly looking for new challenges, new problems to solve, and new roles that push them out of their comfort zone – because that’s where the learning happens.
Nothing worth while in life happens without risk. No home run has ever been hit without taking a swing. The light bulb wouldn’t be here if Edison didn’t take a risk, both financially and scientifically. Great leaders are comfortable with taking risk. These risk-takers are not careless. Far from it. Rather they are prepared for it. They believe in themselves, the skills they’ve developed, and their intuition. They are comfortable with being uncomfortable.
So when someone offers you an opportunity do something different, think about it. Push yourself to get comfortable outside of your comfort zone. Don’t shy away from a challenge. It’s far more risky to remain static than it is to change. Don’t settle. Be curious.