Great Leadership Need Not Be Fatal

Today we watch Admiral Horatio Nelson roaming the quarterdeck in full ceremonial uniform aboard his flagship the Victory, on the afternoon of October 21, 1805. He is preparing for the Battle of Trafalgar off the Spanish coast, and it is to be the most decisive and successful battle in British history, as his fleet of 27 ships takes on the 33 ships of the combined French and Spanish navies. 

It was customary for a captain or admiral to wear a battle uniform, more suitable for fighting than showing off medals, but in addition to being the most ferocious and successful warrior in British naval history, Nelson was also a proud and somewhat vain man. 

He also knew that as the flagship would lead the attack on the enemy ships, his obvious presence on deck would signal to the officers and seamen on every ship in the fleet, that he was a brave man, and that he expected them to be brave also. Just before the engagement, he had his signalman send this message to the rest of the fleet:  “England expects that every man will do his duty.”  Nothing more needed to be said.  The men of the British Navy loved Nelson and were willing to lay down their lives for him.

Nelson’s leadership and the battle plan of running his ships straight at the superior combined enemy forces proved decisive.  By battle’s end, 17 of the enemy ships had struck their colors and one had been destroyed by fire.  The battle established the supremacy of the British fleet and destroyed any hope of a Napoleonic invasion of Britain by sea.  Nelson’s heroism is still celebrated in England today. I once toured the Victory in dry-dock at Portsmouth, and I visited Nelson’s tomb at St. Paul’s in London.  The crowds are still enormous.

But you may also recall that Nelson lost his life at Trafalgar. When the Victory closed on the enemy ship Redoutable, the French captain Lucas had filled his rigging with marksmen who rained fire on the Victory’s decks, and it was one of those snipers who killed Nelson. The fleet brought Nelson’s body back to England preserved in a vat of brandy, so that the body could be properly embalmed and buried on British soil. He was that important to the people.

I share this story with you today because I’m still inspired by Darryl Demos’ blog on the supposed lack of effect of coaching on retail banking sales performance, as Mr. Demos suggests that “leadership” is a more effective means of spurring sales performance. 

No doubt he is right, but I’d like to see a bit more dialog on the subject of “leadership.”  Businesses talk about its importance all the time, but one rarely sees examples of it. And although I gave you a good one here on today’s Fable Friday, it’s clear that a leader need not die in order to drive top performance from his team.  Mr. Demos describes one desirable behavior associated with leadership, and that is modeling.  To be a leader, you should be able to model the behavior you want from your people, as successful sales managers often do, and in fact as Nelson did.

But we know there are other behaviors associated with leadership, and I would like your thoughts.  What are they?  When you think of leadership, what does it mean to you?  What stories can you think of from your career, from life in general, or from history, that made you think, “That was great leadership!”

I’ll take this up next post.  Meanwhile

Think Like Your Customer

Is It Coaching or Flogging? What’s Behind the Numbers?

Darryl Demos, of the consulting firm Novantas, reported last week that his firm conducted research of retail bank branches, and found that in branches where the manager did less direct selling and more coaching, the branch sold less.

This is not surprising for many reasons.  The first, cited by Mr. Demos, is that branches are generally small, and if you take out the branch manager who ought to be the top salesperson, it puts a big dent in results. 

The second reason is that coaching is not an activity to be engaged in to fill in downtime.  If there is any downtime, it should be devoted to more selling.  The average branch sold just 80 products per month.

And finally, managers are told to coach more frequently, so they do, and this over-emphasis on coaching rather than selling, is hurting sales. Mr. Demos makes the point that sales skill modeling by a competent manager ought to engage the rest of the sales team by sheer force of will.  I liked these conclusions but I have just one idea to consider.

Perhaps you remember my post “If By Whiskey” on June 24th?  Novantas may have surveyed the branch managers to find out how much time they spent selling or coaching, and when told the managers were coaching for say 30% of their time, they probably wrote down “Coaching 30%.” 

But if by coaching, the managers were telling people what went wrong and who was to blame, then the time spent coaching could not have been very effectively used.  On the other hand, if by coaching, the managers were having a positive discussion resulting in greater performance, I believe the sales results would have been much greater.  There is no excuse for selling only 4 products a day if the coaching had been effective.

In other words, despite how extensive the research was, we have no idea what took place in “coaching,” and this is important, because in my experience most of the coaching I’ve seen in banks has been poor.

Recently I helped a retail bank on an outbound call campaign to an affluent market segment.  For the front-line sales team we conducted workshops on tele-consulting, designed to engage customers on issues such as banking preferences, service issues and overall satisfaction. After the workshops we sent them to the phones to make live calls which we observed and coached.  I gave the sales managers a separate workshop on coaching skills, modeled how they should “sound” and had them practice, which they did well.

But once they began to coach the live calls, they couldn’t restrain themselves. “You forgot to tell the customer about the campaign.  Your greeting was weak.  You left out the question about overall satisfaction…” and so on.

After one particularly poor call debrief conducted by TWO managers, who tag-teamed their abuse on the poor salesperson, I called the managers aside and asked, “Guys, what just happened here?  Walk me through your coaching conversation. What did you do?”  And it was then that they realized, “Oh wow!  I didn’t do this very well at all.”

I believe Novantas got the numbers right, but I’ll bet what the managers thought was coaching was not coaching at all.  And that’s important.

Coaching is designed to improve performance, period.  It’s not about beating people up, making them feel bad and harming sales performance.  It’s hard to do. It must be modeled and practiced.  The coach must have confidence in the employee and treat him or her kindly. In other words,  

Think Like Your Customer