Picking up where we left off yesterday, here’s part two of my interview with Dan Forbes from Lead With Giants exploring leadership in the 21st century.
5. What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?
It was quite literally the very first decision I made as a rookie National Sales Manager. It was my first, formal leadership position in business. The sales force was totally dysfunctional; to the point of not being able to plan for a day of appointments or even show up to sales calls on time. Sales were eroding, steadily and gaining momentum in the wrong direction and 60% of our business was with one customer. Not only was this ship I had just joined rudderless (in terms of sales leadership), half the sail canvas was on the deck and what was raised was tattered and luffing!
I recommended to the President (and owner) that we needed to restructure our entire sales strategy and he gave me the green light to do so. I let all 12 field-deployed sales reps go and replaced them with four sales reps that were stationed at the factory. They would travel for a week and spend the next week in the office. We immediately cut our cost of sales by more than 50% (it was pure cost, delivering no ROI) and within four months had turned the corner to profitable growth. It also taught me a cultural lesson. By bringing the sales reps into the factory, directly from a week of meeting customers, it re-invigorated the entire factory. We brought the customer concerns right onto the factory floor, right into the quality meetings, right into engineering. The resulting energy and engagement was palpable. It woke up the entire company!
From that experience onward, I knew I would have to make difficult decisions, but I would do so for the right reasons and in the right manner…and always hold myself accountable.
6. How do you learn?
Continuously and in remarkably unanticipated ways. Because of my days in the life sciences, I’m a voracious reader of peer-reviewed research studies. We’ve built our entire approach on scientific evidence. What continuously fascinates me is how I will learn things while investigating the research for one program that benefits another.
The most powerful modality for my learning is through teaching, coaching and facilitating our equine facilitated learning programs with the horses and our clients. The more I engage in the work, the deeper my understanding becomes and the more I learn about human motivation and the power of authentic relationship. The facilitation of the work requires the suspension of our Jungian ego. Doing so engages me fully in the moment and enables me to be detached from the outcome. Inevitably, this improves results dramatically. As a former executive strategist, this is a challenge for me to incorporate in my daily business endeavors!
7. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
Everywhere, from within and outside of the firm. Over the years we’ve cultivated great relationships with industry experts outside of our core competencies. Maintaining these relationships through dynamic conversations has provided insights we would have otherwise missed along our journey.
8. How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”?
By embodying them. Congruency is a critical leadership attribute. To paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, “It is no use walking to preach unless your walking is your preaching.” Again, our work developing leadership competencies with executives experiencing ground-based exercises with horses demands congruency. The horses will accept no less, regardless of one’s title. The herd holds us accountable!
9. How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?
By creating a culture of trust, engagement and open dialogue. I encourage people to challenge every assumption, every strategy, regardless of if it is my idea or somebody else’s idea. Keep it open, dynamic and engaging and you’ll hear what’s going on every day.
It’s imperative to create a Professional Development Plan for each associate as well. It creates a documented, open dialogue and illuminates a development path for the associate. If you pull this document out every few months for a quick review of progress you can eliminate performance reviews, which inevitably focus on the negative. Why not focus on someone’s growth instead?