How having a Sales & Leadership Coach dramatically improved my business, my results, and my life.
The Missing Piece
Over the last 12 months I have made many significant and positive changes in my life. In fact, just this weekend I was creating a new vision board. I did this same activity at the same time last year. When I was finished, I laid the two versions (this years and last year’s) side by side and was again reminded of how much growth has taken place. Even writing about it makes me take a deep breath in and release a sigh of gratitude. The only word that comes to mind is “wow”.
I have shared a lot of this journey on social media. I have been flooding Facebook and Instagram with pictures of meditation practices, underlined paragraphs from books, and personal development challenges. Most recently I’ve even ventured into blogging to further explain some of the ideas that have given me clarity, peace, and perspective in hopes that it might help others find the same.
It was recently brought to my attention however, that I have inadvertently omitted a piece of the puzzle. I haven’t yet shared the primary catalysts helping me to act on (for example) starting said meditation practices, reading those books, and creating my personal development challenges.
This is the story of that missing piece.
It’s written more from personal experience than many things I post but that is by design. It IS my personal experience. So, take what you can, leave what doesn’t fit, but I encourage you to read with an open mind and consider if something like this might be the catalyst you’ve been missing too…
Through a series of unexpected and serendipitous events, I found myself introduced to the idea of hiring a Sales and Leadership coach.
If you knew me, you might think me an unlikely candidate for coaching. You see, I am a bit of an overachiever.
The program was described to me as “accountability coaching”. If you were to read my resume (filled with impressive stats and aggressive advancement) or visit my home (where you’d find shelves packed with self-help and business books as well as dozens of marathon and half-marathon medals) you might assume that things were going ‘pretty OK’ in the accountability department. In fact, when I told my father about wanting to get involved in a coaching program I believe his exact words were “I think you are literally the last person on the planet that needs this.”
(Don’t feel bad, I don’t think this is the first time he’s been wrong.)
Or – maybe that was a fair assessment. I mean really, maybe no one “needs” coaching. Just like no one “needs” to live an extraordinary life or accomplish goals beyond their wildest dreams… maybe. But I have never been satisfied with average.
However, here’s the common misconception and the thing I am asked about most often from those privy to my involvement in this… As a person “not satisfied with average” you’d have to guess that I’m ambitious from the jump.
And you’d be right.
So, why coaching?
Here’s the paradox with being an overachiever. When you are an overachiever, the world makes it really easy to be lazy.
This might sound counterintuitive, so allow me to illustrate.
Let’s say you and I both work for a company that measures our value and production in the number of pies we can bake in a day.
Let’s assume that an average producer bakes 100 pies per day. Let’s also imagine that you and I are both ambitious overachievers and, as such, we can bake 125 pies per day – no problem. We can basically do this in our sleep.
It stands to reason that with slightly more effort we could probably bake 150 pies per day, but if everyone is in jaw-dropped-awe at our 125 pies are we really going to shoot for the 150? It would take an awful lot of personal inspiration and motivation to do so. Might as well ‘phone it in’ and let everyone be impressed as is with our 125 pies.
This is a lazy approach, for sure, but no one ever seems to notice.
Achievements and accomplishments are relative. It’s all about pushing beyond your own personal best – if you’re inspired to do so. It’s all about challenging yourself and finding out what’s possible for you! Not comparing yourself to the average.
Spoiler Alert: Comparison to anything outside of yourself is a bit poisonousness anyway.
I started coaching because I knew that I could bake more metaphorical pies. I knew that the world had made it too easy for me to be lazy and that if I wanted to discover what was possible it was up to me to make a change.
I paid for the program myself. Aside from my rent, it was the single most expensive monthly charge on my credit card statement. You know when people talk about the price of something and then say, “it was the best money I ever spent”? I get that. This was the best money I have ever spent. No question.
One of my first assignments was to work on my personal vision. I had to answer thought-provoking questions about where I was going and why. I created a list of 40 goals I aimed to achieve before the age of 40 (arbitrary numbers – just because it’s catchy) and I was tasked with creating a vision board.
This may sound cheesy but stick with me… This process made me realize something. Somehow, I had spent the past few years going through the motions and feeling my way around in the dark. I hadn’t even realized I was living this way. My eyes adjusted. I had grown accustomed.
This make it feel like someone had finally flipped the lights on. “Vision”; literally.
My coach was asking me to dig deep and answer these important questions but he had no dog in the fight. Maybe it’s just me but I feel like any time I’m talking “vision” or “goals” to anyone who cares enough to hear them it seems they always have a dog in the fight. They’re always tied in. My achieving or not achieving X goal affects them in one way or another. There had been no unbiased participants in a conversation about my personal vision. Until now.
I could answer these questions and craft my vision however I chose. Me. Solo. And my coach would hold me accountable to this exercise and make sure it was accomplished on a deadline.
Suddenly it wasn’t selfish to spend this time reflecting and dreaming. It was necessary. It was an assignment. But the teacher didn’t win or lose based on the content of my work.
I was forced to go inward and untangle some things.
Did I mention I thought I signed up for sales coaching?
But, as I would learn, it’s all the same.
Of course, I learned strategies specifically designed to help me within the four walls of my office as well.
I have been in management and leadership for nearly ten years but the year I spent in coaching was the year I truly learned how to manage and lead.
It’s not that I was terrible at this before. I had actually been quite lucky throughout the decade. I employed a strategy of reading a few leadership books per year, had discovered Success Magazine audio CDs before podcasts were the norm, and had picked up some good instincts on how to navigate through the maze of hiring, training and developing – but I probably couldn’t tell you how or why I made the choices I made.
It was as if I was accidentally picked as a starting player on a soccer team and although I had never actually learned the rules of how to play soccer, I managed to score enough point per game that no one noticed I couldn’t read the playbook.
Coaching helped me to learn the rules, read the playbook, and improve the plays being run.
I was no longer winning through luck and might. I began winning through skill and strategy – which, you know, is quite a bit more sustainable.
As a sales professional, I began to really learn how to hone my craft in an honest and technical way. It’s not about selling more for self-centered reasons or financial gain. It’s about learning to connect faster and more sincerely with prospects, determining if they’ll genuinely benefit from your product or service, and helping them feel supported in the decision to move forward and become you client or partner, or not.
As a leader, my experience in coaching taught me how to hold others accountable through love.
That’s right. I said the “L” word. Roll your eyes if you must but this was a game changer for me.
Tough conversations stopped being tough which alleviated a ton of stress in my world and allowed me to show up and be present when working with my team. I learned (like, really learned) that holding people accountable and not accepting less than their personal best is the kindest thing I can do for them. It is my ultimate service.
I began to feel more at peace at work, interactions became deeper, our relationships strengthened, and our results improved.
I could tell you that I learned about time management but that’s not completely true.
I learned that “time management” is an excuse we use when what we really need to improve is our “self-management” and I learned self-management strategies that increased not only my results and production but also my sense of control and happiness both inside and outside of the office. I now get more done and manage far less chaos. It’s fantastic.
Finally, if I’ve used too many words that make you uncomfortable like vision, service, love, and peace – let me hit you with some facts and figures because that’s a language I am equally fluent in.
During my time in coaching I grew my revenue by 89%, my business hit all-time highs in production and my teams consistently landed in the top 10% of the country for New Business Acquisition.
I can boil this all down to one word; accountability.
We all need it if we ever hope to answer the question: “What’s possible?”
The overachievers, the veterans, the newcomers, and those simply (or not-so-simply) seeking more – we can ALL benefit from someone holding us responsible for achieving our own personal best.
So, how many pies can you/your business really bake in a day?
PEACE & LOVE
PS – For information about the coaching program I used or, you know, just to chat about accountability 😉 feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Holding Others Accountable” is a challenge for many leaders regardless of how much experience they have. The good news is once you “get it”, you GET IT. You can’t un-learn it, and it’s one of the most valuable competencies to master.
More good news? I’m pretty sure it’s not genetic.
Sure, it may be naturally easier for some, but I believe everyone is capable of learning and developing this skill. So if you haven’t had your ‘aha moment’ with accountability yet, don’t write yourself off! Read through the 5 Roadblocks I witness most often and see if you can relate… they’re probably not what you expect!
*But wait: Before we start we need to make sure we’re addressing the right problem. Do you have an accountability problem? Or do you have the wrong people on the bus?
My favorite quote on this subject is from Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”:
“The good-to-great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if the people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction. “Hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine with me.” Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. “
Be real with yourself. If you’ve got the wrong people on the bus you need to start there!
So for our purposes let’s assume we’re dealing with the right team:
- Holding Others Accountable Might Feel Awkward IF: You’re not sure if what you’re holding them to is really important.
“Is this important?” is the first question we need to ask.
“Why?” is the second… and the third, fourth and fifth. Six Sigma calls this the “5 Why” approach. It’s a simple and effective tactic for identifying “root cause”.
It is going to awkward and near impossible to hold your team to something that you do not wholeheartedly believe is important. If you don’t believe it, they won’t believe it, and then you’re dead in the water. So you need to dig to find the important nugget… and it’s usually not the number/aspect you start with.
For example: Let’s say your sales team’s quota is to make 50 calls per week and you want to hold them accountable to this. You need to ask yourself if the “50 calls” is the most important piece. Your thought process may sound like this:
Is “50 calls” important? – Yes
Why? – Because I know my sales reps average 10 calls per presentation and they need to make 5 presentations per week.
Why? – Because one out of every 5 presentations results in a sale and they need to hit one sale per week.
Why? – If they do less than 5 presentations they are not likely to hit their sale.
Consider: Are the 50 calls important? Or is the 1 sale per week important? If they consistently hit the 1 sale per week by making 47 calls per week, is that acceptable?
This could (and should) go on and on…
Keep asking why and self-questioning until you’re stuck – until you arrive at your most essential piece.
The behind-the-scenes work and self-talk that sets the framework for Holding Others Accountable is often overlooked. Very few people are effective at holding someone accountable to something they don’t believe in or fully understand. That’s not personal! That’s universal!
Work out your “Is this important?” first and foremost. Write it out and/or ask a co-worker to challenge you through it. Just keep asking “why”.
- Holding Others Accountable Might Feel Awkward IF: You believe that “Accountability Conversations” and “Discipline” are the same…
You’re not disciplining someone each time you challenge them or hold them accountable. These instances should feel VERY different.
Discipline should be short, concise, and generally one-sided. Discipline may be necessary is a commitment is missed repeatedly, but it’s not where we start.
Let’s imagine you are my Direct Report:
An Accountability Conversation is just that – a conversation. It is a two way street where we talk about the ways which you’ll commit to taking action on the abovementioned IMPORTANT task.
For an Accountability Conversation, we’re on the same team. Our interests are aligned. We both agree that the task is important and we make a plan to succeed.
You may have questions about WHY the task is important (which is the reason I need to be sure I have the answers!) That’s OK! Your questions are valid. I had to question it too otherwise I wouldn’t be strong enough to hold you to it!
This conversation might be long, especially if we’re new to each other or new to Accountability, because we both need to walk away feeling confident and committed.
While we’re both feeling engaged and inspired I need to ask you an important question in an empathetic tone. I say: “You know, this plan really sounds great and I think we’re going to nail it, but to be sure I’m holding up my end of the bargain, if I feel like I hear you making excuses about any of this or if I feel like you’re not living up to your potential in the areas we’re talking about, how do you want me to address that with you?”
Boom. Accountability game changer.
It should really be smooth sailing from here on out (although we have 3 points left, so read on…)
- Holding Others Accountable Might Feel Awkward IF: You’re more concerned with their immediate comfort than their long term success.
I’ll be blunt on this one: It’s not fair to NOT hold people accountable. It’s not fair to ‘let it slide’. No matter whom you lead or in what capacity it’s your job to develop them and help them to succeed. If you’re not down with that, please stop leading.
If I know the task is important and I know that Accountability does not equate to Discipline, there shouldn’t be a lot of discomfort to begin with BUT sometimes (for example) my Tuesday afternoon would just go smoother if I let you slide when I see you not upholding an IMPORTANT obligation.
Bottom line? If I know it’s important it’s not fair for me to turn a blind eye – so we might have a slightly uncomfortable conversation. I’m doing it for your benefit. Your long term success is more important to your immediate comfort (and my immediate comfort for that matter).
If I watch you breaking a commitment and I want to say something but instead I think ‘I am so annoyed by this but I don’t know if I really want to confront him… he might get defensive… and it’s almost 5 o’clock and… excuse, excuse, excuse’ you’ll know what’s up. Not to get too esoteric here but if that’s my mental talk-track, my energy will inevitably be different towards you. And if my energy is different and I don’t address it with you, I break our trust. Not completely or irreparably – but I cause damage. So the next Accountability Conversation will be just a little bit less impactful… and so on…
I am teaching you how to treat me. I am teaching you how our relationship works. I’m teaching you a little about how the world works – and if I am not holding up my end of the bargain and challenging you to keep your commitment then I am not teaching you a lesson that will serve you well. I am not being fair.
- Holding Others Accountable Might Feel Awkward IF: You make it personal
Accountability is not personal.
Discipline is not personal either.
Business is not personal.
Here’s when it will feel personal:
- When I don’t know if the task is truly important
- When I have not set clear expectations
- When I dodge the follow up conversations as I see you not upholding your commitment
- When I am inconsistent in my message and/or methods
- When I haven’t done the behind-the-scenes work to really adopt the ‘impersonal’ aspect of it all
This could potentially be confusing because I’ve said it’s my job to be fair and develop you and teach you to succeed… and it could be argued that there’s an emotional feel to that, but here’s what I mean:
If you said you were going to make five presentations and you made three – YOU, as a person, are not a failure. Your performance may not be acceptable, but I know your performance is not your character. You’re not a bad person. Neither am I. This is not personal.
- Holding Others Accountable Might Feel Awkward IF: You have not set the stage
This point may be belabored by now but that’s OK: it’s critical.
Expectation setting is paramount in every relationship and interaction.
People generally do not like surprises, they don’t want to be caught off guard, and they don’t want to be unaware of the rules. You can say or do almost anything (legal and ethical of course) if you just give people the heads-up that you’re going to do it.
I recommend starting this conversation on day one if you have the luxury of writing on a blank slate. If not, it’s really never too late! Either way will require strength and consistency from you.
Make a promise to those you lead that you will only hold them accountable for things you genuinely believe are important and are in their greatest good. Tell them it is your commitment to them and their development never to ‘turn a blind eye’ or ‘let it slide’ because those approaches do not make them better. Make it safe and prepare them: there WILL be times when they miss on a commitment. You’re going to speak with them about it. It WON’T be personal. And so long as they prove that they’re the right person to be on the bus, you’ll work through it, set a new goal, learn and be better for it.
And then keep your word.
Create a Culture of Accountability and your results will take care of themselves.