Selling Your Ideas: Leadership in Action
In a discussion with the CEO of a large Wisconsin corporation, our focus began to narrow down to the effectiveness of his leadership team. As we got into the heart of the meeting, I asked: “If there were one thing that your managers and supervisors could start doing now that would have the most positive and dramatic impact on your company, what would it be?”
His answer may surprise you, as it did me: “If everyone in a leadership position in our company acted more like a professional salesperson, life would be much easier.”
He went on to explain that his company (like many others today) was going through significant, tough changes and challenges. At the same time. many of the people in leadership roles thought the way to sell these changes as “the boss” was to tell people what to do (albeit in a positive way) and, then, expect them to be excited.
What a “professional salesperson”(Leader) does, on the other hand, is to connect with where a person or team is at, and what their needs/concerns are, and then present whatever needs to be done in their terms.
In simpler terms, two of Dale Carnegie’s fundamental principles from his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, come into play very strongly:
Principle #1: Become genuinely interested in other people.
Principle #2: Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
These ideas are not just common sense, but powerful people connectors. The twofold challenge is to get your mind off “My Agenda” and on to the person or group to whom you, the leader, are giving direction. Dale Carnegie said that you will build more relationships in two hours by becoming genuinely interested in others than you will in two days, two weeks or two months by doing the opposite.
For example, a district manager in one of our client companies had the well-deserved reputation of being a “direct” (translated, “abrasive”) communicator. After seeing that there was a different approach in dealing with even her toughest people, she began to make a point of visiting with her direct reports to get to know them as people, as well as learning of their concerns on the job. She was pleasantly surprised when people started to actually follow through on initiatives that she had formerly done some yelling and screaming to get done. Her new approach recognized that there was a person behind the job, not just another slot on an organization chart.
The Next Principle
The new secret she discovered was that it was better to talk in terms of where her people were at, rather than shoving company policy and dictates at them. That approach is professional selling of ideas in action and suggested that another Dale Carnegie principle is needed when presenting new ideas or solutions:
Principle #3: Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
The most overused word in English (and a lot of other languages) is the pronoun, “I,” (along with its cousins: me, my and mine). People on the receiving end of a new project, change in company policy, or new directions really don’t care why “the boss” wants them to do something. They want to know what is in it for them. Phrasing suggestions and ideas in terms that make sense to them is taking common sense and putting it into common practice.
The Golden Rule
The ideas above are not new. At the same time, the challenge of positive, active implementation is greater than ever. The hurdles in addressing this issue of being a better leader by being a more professional “idea seller,” are to:
- Take your mind off yourself and your agenda
- Listen to people to hear their concerns
- Present ideas in a positive, person-centered (not “I”) way.
The elegant simplicity of Dale Carnegie’s timeless principles suggest the Golden Rule in action. That gold can be a very valuable investment in people.