Keep Calm and Lead By Example

Dear Leaders,

My letter today focuses on an age old saying that most of us have heard, and some put into practice… “lead by example”. I am sure the vast majority of us would agree with this statement and will often try to apply it when we can. But what does “lead by example” really look like and why is it so important. I will begin with sharing a story about my late brother, Maj. George Perkins, a graduate of West Point and leader of men. Early in George’s military career, he was assigned a company of soldiers at a post in Germany. Often, George would take his company on practice missions out in the field. After an untimely death at the age of 33, some of his soldiers shared stories about him as a leader. They went on to say that during field exercises, while other officers were being driven in jeeps by their drivers, George chose to jog out in front of the 1st jeep, using his hand-held 2 way radio to call out commands to the Sergeants and their troops. This was “lead by example” in its purest form. His troops had the highest respect, admiration for George and excelled in following his lead.

So why is “leading by example” so important for today’s inside sales leaders? Here are some key reasons:

  • It shows in action that the team manager is willing to actually do the things she asks her subordinates to do.
  • It builds their own credibility so when the manager suggests a certain approach; they have proven it in action themselves.
  • It shows transparency and authenticity.
  • It demonstrates a certain level work ethic to the team.
  • It demonstrates a type of “servant leadership” which makes a statement that we are in this together and nothing is too below the manager.

The next question is how should an inside sales leader put this into action? Here are 3 practical ideas, which I have done in the past.

  • MAKE SOME CALLS. Yes, that’s right; participate occasionally in BLITZ’s or outbound calling. This will help with all of the above areas. To demonstrate the impact this can make, allow me to share another story. My oldest son, Bryan, took a job at a large high-tech company where I was Director of a large Inside Sales team many years before. He met a senior level colleague employed there for several years who asked him, “Are you the son of Bob Perkins?” Bryan said… “I might be; it depends”. All kidding aside, the colleague went on to say he clearly remembered the day, 12 years earlier, that I sat next to him during some call coaching and asked if I could make some calls for him to hear my example. He said that I was the only manager at a director level he ever had that actually got on the phone and made calls. It made a huge impact on his ability to learn and improve. If you haven’t done this ever, or in a while, it’s time to get back on the phones a bit!
  • PARTICIPATE ON A PROJECT. You are probably thinking, of course… you are getting your hands dirty on plenty of projects. But, the point here is to participate as an equal alongside an inside rep, and not as a manager or the project lead. By doing this, you will actually be performing some of the same work as if you were a peer. It demonstrates your willingness to put forth some of the same effort, and “get into the weeds” as those reporting to you.
  • WORK TOGETHER WITH THE FIELD. Although this may not apply to every situation, where you have any type of team selling model, the inside sales manager should routinely meet with the inside rep and their field counterpart. This sends a clear message that the manager is walking the walk” right with their rep in terms of discussing strategy, tactics, and what’s working and what’s not with the field. He or She is just not leaving up to their rep to figure out. If you are not in a team selling model, the same process can hold true for working with cross-functions such as marketing, product management, etc.

I hope this gives you some ideas and also provides a little motivation to join in with your team in some practical, “lead-by-example” ways. I would love to hear some other ideas you have out there, so please feel free to add some comments!