đź’™ Leader or Teller?

I didn’t learn because you just told me what to do.

I want to learn to get better at my job and yet you do the work for me.

leader vs teller

Most leaders I work with tell me they have difficulty identifying the root cause of performance issues, and are often unsure how to fix them.

Many understand that as a leader it’s their job to get results through others—and yet, in a time crunch they use this directional leadership style: telling their staff what tasks to do and how to do them.

And if their staff aren’t meeting their expectations—they will do the tasks themselves to get the job done. After all, their number is on the line, too.

It may seem easier to fire off answers or do something yourself than it is to develop staff. However, using directional leadership to boost short-term productivity can cause long-term problems. You’ll never escape the line of employees queued outside your door to ask you the same questions over and over. Plus, you’ll spend more time managing escalations than you will on high-value work. (Sound familiar?)

A directional leadership mindset is deeply ingrained in many organizations’ sales culture. It’s a hangover from the 1980s “dominate-to-subordinate” mentality that is still passed down.

However, the tide is shifting. There’s a better leadership model that will help you connect to your larger vision and get greater results from your team.

Developmental Leadership: the Biggest Skill Missing in Corporate Canada Today

Developmental leadership involves training, developing and coaching your staff to better performance. You ask probing questions to help your staff find answers on their own, as opposed to doing the work yourself.

Developmental leadership requires a shift in mindset. Instead of focusing on numbers, tasks, and limits, you focus on the individual’s growth possibilities. It’s about believing that all people can be developed into higher performers vs. thinking people are the way they are.

Case Study:

Let’s say you have a sales rep who struggles with cold calling. He’s bringing in 1 lead for every 10 calls, but should be bringing in 5. Below is how you would handle the situation with a directional leadership vs. a developmental leadership approach:

A Directional Leadership approach:

When most sales leaders identify a gap, they try to treat it with a prescription of tasks and activities. More calls. More visits. More quotes. While doing more might help you hit numbers in the short term, it won’t solve the problem. It’s like trying to plug a water leak with a Band-Aid.

So, in the above case study using a directional approach, you would ask your rep to make five more calls. You know “it’s a numbers game”, where more calls equal more sales.

Most leaders do this because they are scared of not hitting their numbers, so they put pressure on their people to make more calls. It’s the leader’s mindset around their own numbers that drives them to tell people what to do rather than develop them.

A Developmental Leadership Approach:

Here are the 4 steps a leader committed to developing their people would follow:

Step 1: Discover the Gap

In this case, the gap is making prospecting calls.

Step 2: Discover What’s Causing the Gap: is it a “Skill” or a “Will”?

How to identify if it is a Skill:

In a developmental model, you first observe the employee to see if they have a skill gap. You want to see if your sales rep knows all the steps involved in prospecting calls. Are they following ALL of them? Are they using language that influences? Are they being engaging or are they distracted? These are all areas you can coach to.

The key to identifying if it is a skill issue is that you must know every step of the sales process—cold.

How to identify if it is a Will:

Getting to the root cause of a will issue involves thinking less with your head and more with your heart. There isn’t a process you can refer to that will help you identify what’s not working. You need to determine the emotional drivers behind why an employee isn’t performing well.

During the one-on-one observation, ask questions to learn what your rep’s mindset is. You want to know if they have any fear or negative self-talk that is impacting performance.

Ask them what their concerns are, what they are scared of and what is holding them back.

For you to be effective at developing and inspiring your people, you must be heart-centered and curiously engaged. Most often, I notice that emotion is the missing link.

Step 3: Create a Development Plan

Once you identify what is causing the performance issue, you then put a development plan in place. This is where you coach and develop your rep to improve their skills and mindset regarding prospecting calls. The goal is not to have your rep hit this week’s numbers, but to improve over time. The results don’t come immediately; humans don’t become experts in a day. Over time, with continued coaching and development, your rep will make you proud and remind you why you wanted to develop others.

Step 4: Be Direct and Compassionate

You will get better and faster results when you are direct AND compassionate with your employees. When I observe leaders, I notice they often talk around issues rather than talking to the issue. They tell me that it’s because they feel uncomfortable and pushy. Keeping your distance and dancing around the issue doesn’t solve anything.

When you help a friend with a problem, you know the right questions to ask. It’s the same at work. If you identify a gap, ask your employee what is challenging for them and show compassion when helping them. Improving your communication as a leader will ignite a fire for performance in your staff.

Developmental Leadership Causes Sustainable Change

Shifting from a directional to development leadership mindset is transformation. The more you develop others, the more you will develop yourself and become an expert in change management.

Here are four questions that will help you determine if you are a directive or developmental leader:

  • Do you tell your people what to do, or coach them to think and act differently?

  • Are you using the sales process to identify skill gaps?

  • When was the last time you created a development plan that included skill-building activities?

  • How do your people feel in your presence; comfortable enough to tell you what is really going on and what is really holding them back?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

- Sophie Boyko.


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Take a peek inside and discover lots of free training tailored just for you. In Chapter Three of this series, we learned that sometimes the best you can do, can be the hardest.

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