Leadership By Walking About
In my corporate life I had managed a Canadian business. I had three sales teams, a national account team and a national distribution account team.
The business environment was fast paced, intense and very consuming.
Where was most of my time spent? It feels like (and I believe it to be the case) in internal meetings, looking over spreadsheets and on conference calls/net meetings. But this seemed so wrong, as I had always found it difficult to understand what was happening in the marketplace without being in the market with my sales teams and in front of customers – both distribution and end user customers.
Otherwise I found that information reached me through a series of filters.
Was it important enough for a local sales representative to share with their manager?
If it reached the manager, was it important enough for the manager to pass along to me?
How could I represent our business with product category managers, marketing managers, finance, logistics/supply chain, etc. with limited or filtered information?
Aside from that, as I traveled within my marketplace, I found it an incredible opportunity for detecting trends. I might hear of something in Montreal and then the next week come across something similar in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver as I worked my way west. As an isolated item, it seemed inconsequential but strung together in a recurring pattern I could detect an emerging trend.
The selling environment is certainly changing but it is still important to build and sustain high value relationships (which also lead to customer retention and penetration) best done in face to face interactions. I felt it was my role to speak to customers about emerging trends and practices and to give a more strategic view of my company’s business imperatives. I could also open the door for larger sales opportunities for the local teams to pursue.
As I traveled, I also felt it was a great way to understand my managers and sales representatives in terms of their present level of effectiveness (workload, stress level and appropriate levels of support). It was also a great way to help my remote employees feel associated to their company. It is extremely difficult to feel like you are connected to an employer if your only connections are emails and periodic conference calls.
One of my favourite leadership books is Leadership Lessons from West Point, edited by Major Doug Crandall. It is hard to think of any other environment where it is more important to quickly and effectively build leadership qualities in young leaders than in the military. The book is a series of essays. There was one particular phrase that I came across that has resonated with me over time and that was a concept of “muddy boot leadership”. It was leadership by being seen in the field and sharing in the tasks and risks.
Muddy boot leadership or leadership by walking around; what better ways to be informed, inspire confidence and build loyalty? It is certainly a lot better than listening in on conference calls or poring over spreadsheets!
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