Andrea was on a roll. As the new director of sales, she loved watching her direct report take notes whenever she spoke. She knew she was a force to be reckoned with when it came to selling.
However, her leadership training was minimal at best-and coaching her was going to test me to the max.
Planning her first team retreat she told me, "You know, I got this job because I am really super good at sales."
Then I reminded her:
Selling isn't leading.
I had an uneasy feeling she would soon fall down the slippery slope of arrogance. That day came one month later.
I cringed watching Andrea. I had underlined that smart leaders give their team a chance to speak up first. While she spoke last and thought she was merely giving suggestions, she was pontificating.
Pontificate: to express one's opinions in a way considered pompous and dogmatic as if you know everything about the subject.
Talking isn't leading.
I watched the team zone out. However, no one was willing to stop Andrea. They sat passively with butts in seats, their thoughts elsewhere. Some mind-shopped for clothes or cars. Others made to-do lists for when they could finally get "real" work done.
And then someone asked Andrea a question that was tinged with challenge. It was about an account that had gone sour. One of her prime accounts. The question was simply, "Hey, why do you think XYZ Company stopped buying from us?"
Challenging isn't leading.
Andrea took the bait and became defensive. She quickly reverted to old, knee-jerk CYA behavior. Rather than be vulnerable and talk about that disappointing defeat, she challenged Neil and demanded that HE tell HER what should have happened.
The air was electric with tension. The debate was on. It was Andrea vs. Neil. Most were silently rooting for Neil.
Debating isn't leading.
It was clear this retreat was going to be a total waste unless there was some truth telling and vulnerability. And it needed to start with Andrea.
We took a break and I motioned Andrea to an empty room. I suggested she take a different kind of leadership control and figure out how to tell the truth. Her truth.
First she defended her defensiveness. Then, finally, she admitted she worried about being accepted and figured that if she came on strong with her skills, she would gain respect and have the upper hand.
Now we were on to something important.
Telling the truth IS leading.
When we reconvened Andrea took a deep breath. She decided to risk being honest. She was not sure how she would be received. It was a "feel the fear and do it anyway" moment.
Here is what she said: "I took a wrong turn before our break. I became defensive and started to play that old CYA game and didn't answer Neil's question. It's amazing how hard it is to be vulnerable and tell the truth. I want to give you the backstory of how I lost that account so we can all learn from it."
She looked around the room and saw heads nodding in agreement. Andrea told her story, and in doing so, she built trust and paved the way for everyone to be real.
Andrea learned that honesty is one of the most important aspects of being a leader. Only by being open and truthful can you fully build the trust that cements a team.