What Can Change Leaders Learn from Salespeople?

When you think of “sales” and “salespeople,” what words leap to mind?  While some have positive perceptions, many would respond with choices such as, “sly, slick, and smarmy”!  Regardless of your formal role or job title, we’re all in the business of sales and we’re all salespeople – whether we like it or not. This is an especially critical message for Change Leaders.  It’s all about influencing others towards new directions. We partner with people to “sell” the new way and our ability to do this effectively has a direct outcome on the results we seek.

Now, in case that sounds like a “sales tactic,” let’s look at what it means to sell our ideas, our vision and intended outcomes.  What is the fine line between motivation and manipulation?  To me, the difference comes down to two critical issues – mindset and goal.  Is our mindset that we are doing something “to” or even “in spite of” others, or, “for” and even “with” them?  Is our goal myopic self-interest, or is our intent to partner with others toward a positive new future for all?

We need to “adjust our style” to fit the audience as well as the stage in the sales cycle.  Change Intelligent Leaders are aware of their style in leading change, and have the savvy to adapt it – whether they are working with executive sponsors, impacting business leaders, or negotiating with project team members – to give people what they need “get it, want it, and be able to do it.”

That of course is the essence of CQ – that we each have a dominant tendency when leading change – to focus on the Heart, the Head, or the Hands – but the most effective among us know that successful and sustainable change needs all three:  to show people the vision for the change (the Head), to communicate how people will be impacted by the change (the Heart), and to devise a sound plan to close the gap between current reality and the goal (the Hands).

We so often focus on the “how” – and this tendency is particularly strong in “high Hands” Change Leaders – which is true for many PMs, given their execution-based roles.  Clearly, this is an important and necessary focus.  Indeed, one of the most common root causes of the shockingly high failure rate of major changes (70%!) is the lack of sound implementation and process to sustain the gains.  This is where high Hands Change Leaders shine.

And (not but!) while the “how” is important, people crave to know the “why” behind a change.  “Why is this happening?  Why are you asking me to do this?  Why yet another change?”  As humans, we are more motivated to work toward a goal when we see the line-of-sight between the part we are asked to play and the end game.

Change Intelligent Leaders communicate the “how,” the “why” – and the “who.”  

Connecting with the Hands, Head, and Heart.  All three are requirements for genuine commitment from our teams and our people – as opposed to resigned compliance.  “Rain-making” salespeople and impactful Change Leaders actively develop and deploy their influence skills to follow the Platinum Rule – to do onto others as THEY want/need to be done onto – to “close the deal” and achieve the results they seek – for everyone’s mutual benefit.

Women’s Voices at Work

From Marissa Mayer’s high profile people-management decisions in her role as Yahoo’s CEO to Sheryl Sandberg’s provocative assertions in her  book Lean In, there continues to be a lot of debate about leadership and the sexes – and whether men and women lead differently. Although there’s some hype and “drama” surrounding this topic, it’s a critical one to explore, since it impacts our ability to drive critical changes in these chaotic times.

Consider three intriguing sets of research findings:

  1. As reported in the Harvard Business Review: “Many believe that bias against women lingers in the business world, particularly when it comes to evaluating their leadership ability…To our surprise, we found the opposite: As a group, women outshone men in most of the leadership dimensions measured. There was one exception, however, and it was a big one: Women scored lower on ‘envisioning’—the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.”
  2. In contrast, Dension Consulting: “the global leader in culture change and assessment, has found that women are rated higher on all leadership dimensions than their male counterparts.  However, men rate themselves stronger on “having a mission” and “adaptability” (traits associated with strategic leadership), while women rate themselves stronger on “involvement” and “consistency” (traits associated with people leadership and tactical execution).”
  3. Similarly, in this blog postI shared findings based on the CQ/Change Intelligence Assessment, that men are significantly more likely to report acting as Visionary Change Leaders (focusing on long-term goals), and women as Coaches and Facilitators (focusing on people and implementing short-term objectives.

What can we make of these findings – and how do they impact our roles, behaviors and attitudes as leaders?  Both Denison’s and my research demonstrate that men and women perceive themselves differently as leaders – men focusing more on purpose, women on people and process.  In other words, men tend to focus on results, women on relationships that facilitate results.  And, at least according to the Harvard study, others perceive these differences as well – at least with respect to visionary leadership. Can these results partially explain the glass ceiling effect – that while women outnumber men in the workforce and at lower and middle management ranks, they are sorely absent from the upper echelons?

As Sheryl Sandberg observed during her career as the COO of Facebook and wrote in Lean In, of course there are organizational and societal barriers that women face – and yet, there may be important internal barriers that hinder us as well, which may be invisible even to us.  How we perceive ourselves – our mindset – impacts our behavior – our behavior impacts how others perceive us – and how others perceive us impacts our opportunities to move ahead and to make a difference.  This is true for all leaders, men and women.

These are critical issues to explore if we want expand the ability of our teams and organizations to get the best from our brightest.  When women’s voices are heard at the top levels, companies see bottom-line benefits spanning from profitability to retention.

CQ + EQ: A Potent Combination for Leaders (and what it means for you)

cq-eq

Assuming you’re familiar with CQ, let’s take a step back and look at EQ.  When introducing the concept to clients for the first time, I often get a response such as, “we base our decisions on logic and facts – we don’t bring our emotions to work.”  Or, as one of my more colorful clients, a manufacturing executive explained, “we don’t do that touchy-feely crap!”

But, we’ve all experienced how our preferences don’t always determine our reality – right? After all, anyone who’s even somewhat familiar with brain science knows that “leaving our emotions at the workplace door” is simply not possible:  When we experience a sensation (anything from our sense organs – a sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) it first registers in our reptilian brain, then passes to our limbic system (the seat of the emotions), and then travels to our cerebral cortex (our thinking brain).  

As much as we might wish it were otherwise, we each bring our whole person to work with us everyday – our bodies and brains, our thoughts and our emotions.  And, moreover, we decide how we feel about something first, before we get a chance to process what we think about it!

Yet, the viewpoint expressed by the manufacturing executive is a very common one – and illustrative of the fact that even the most intelligent leaders are misinformed about what EQ really is.  As Daniel Goleman, a leader in Emotional Intelligence, teaches us, EQ is not about being “touchy-feely” – it’s about being aware of your feelings, and those of others; EQ is not about being nice all the time – it’s about being honest; and EQ is not about being emotional – it’s about being smart with your emotions.   

Just looking at the impact of EQ on overall career success, consider the following:

  • EQ alone explains 58% of a leader’s job performance
  • 90% of top performers are high in EQ while just 20% of low performers are high in EQ
  • EQ is linked to job performance at every level in every industry

And moreover, to get a taste of the profound impact EQ can have on organizational success, when plant supervisors were trained in EQ:

  • Lost time accidents were reduced by 50%
  • Formal grievances went from 15 per year to 3
  • Productivity goals were exceeded by $250,000

You know from being a part of the CQ community that developing Change Intelligence empowers leaders to be more competent and competent in managing change, teams to be more effective in jointly facilitating change, and organizations (as a whole) to more smoothly bring to life successful and sustainable change.  But, what about the power of CQ and EQ when used together?  This is a question I’m often asked, both from the stage in delivering keynotes and also in working with executives and teams. I believe it’s an important one to explore – since it can accelerate your ability to make an impact and to successfully lead change.

Combining CQ and EQ is a winning approach to equip ourselves and other leaders to meet the increasingly demanding challenges we’re experiencing in today’s workplace.  I’ve learned this first hand using a joint approach over the last year at several client organizations.

In addition, I recently taught a guest lecture in the “Leadership Principles and Practices” class at Northwestern University.  Since he required reading for the class is both Change Intelligence as well as Goleman’s Primal Leadership, I addressed this question in depth to the graduate students in the class:

How can building our EQ in addition to CQ help us lead change?

Inspire the Heart:  High CQ leaders know that we need to connect, communicate, and collaborate with people to design and implement change that sticks.  High EQ leaders’ heightened relationship management skills ensure they are better able to do so.

Engage the Brain:  High CQ leaders know that we need to make the business case for the change, sharing visions for the future and strategies that paint a picture of how to achieve transformational goals.  High EQ leaders are more sensitive in assessing people’s “current state” in terms of their emotional reactions when confronted with a major change, and are more savvy in being able to craft customized messages that paint a more effective line-of-sight from present to future for a wide variety of stakeholders.

Help the Hands:  High CQ leaders know that we need to motivate movement to make changes real in the field, to translate lofty strategies to specific tactics people can execute, and provide them the training and tools to do so.  High EQ leaders have honed their radar to be in tuned with barriers that are standing in people’s way to altering their behavior and adopting new ways of working, such as fears of loss of skills, status, or security.

Moving to the team level, groups with members high in EQ, which also know their individual Change Leader styles as well as their Team CQ Profile, are better equipped to proactively and openly leverage their strengths, identify and shore-up their blind spots, and give/receive genuine feedback to facilitate true partnerships in leading the change process together.

Leaders with high EQ are more effective at engaging employees, and companies with engaged cultures outperform their counterparts on a wide variety of metrics from profitability to quality to customer satisfaction to turnover.  Workplaces with leaders who make a commitment to build CQ and EQ at all levels have a much higher probability of overcoming the dismal 70% failure rate of major change initiatives, and instead, execute transformations that stick – and generate a lasting return on investment.

Do Men and Women Lead Change Differently?

The short answer is “yes.” Although in the U.S. women comprise half the workforce, earn the majority of college and post-graduate degrees, and own 40% of businesses, when we look at Fortune 500 companies, only 4% of CEOs and only 16% of Board Members are women. Yet, we also know from research by Catalyst, McKinsey, and others that a higher percentage of women in top leadership positions leads to 50% higher profitability, 25% increases in revenue, and higher motivation and retention rates.

What can we do about this paradox?  Research into gender differences in leadership styles using the CQ/Change Intelligence Assessment reveals ideas for a new way forward.

Regardless of gender, each change agent has a basic tendency to lead with his or her Heart, Head, Hands, or some combination of the three. Leaders who lead mainly from the Heart connect with people emotionally (I want it!). Those who lead from the Head connect with people cognitively (I get it!). And those who lead from the Hands connect with people behaviorally (I can do it!).  The powerful combination of all three is what Change Intelligence, or CQ, is all about.

My research clearly indicates that men tend to lead change more with the Head, women primarily with the Heart, and that for women, Hands is a strong secondary style:

cq_chart

Said another way, almost half of men surveyed lead change by focusing on vision, mission, and strategy (Head strengths). Almost half of women, conversely, place a premium on engaging, communicating, and collaborating (Heart strengths), and almost a third of women emphasize planning, tactics, and execution (Hands strengths).  Most men have their radars tuned to purpose, and women on people and process.

Why is this?  These findings are consistent with other research that shows women on the whole tend to display more emotionally intelligent as well as transformational leadership behaviors.  Men focus on results, and women on relationships that facilitate results. Note that it is not inherently better or worse to focus on Heart or Head or Hands – the most effective change incorporates all three.  The point is not for change leaders – men or women – to change their natural style.  The point, instead, is awareness of our styles, and the ability to adapt our behavior to incorporate other approaches to be optimally impactful across a variety of people and situations. Also, the point is that when leading change, men tend to display behaviors traditionally associated with strategic executives, concentrating on future vision and new business horizons.  Conversely, women tend to center on supporting their teams to work together and to detail a road map to achieve a change objective, functioning more like supportive coaches.

Implications? Many — both for men’s and women’s careers as leaders, as well as for organizations intent on leveraging the best leadership talent as well as on managing successful and sustainable change.

For organizations:

  • What leadership behaviors do you value and promote during change processes?  Are you including diverse perspectives –a focus on purpose and people and process?  Managing change that sticks mandates a balance on all three.
  • Are you including women in executive-level deliberations and decisions?  Are they being mentored to develop their strategic business skills?

For women:

  • Are you actively seeking opportunities to learn about other parts of the business, or are you “head down” in the trenches assisting your team and accomplishing your immediate objectives?  At times, women need to get their heads up and out of their short-term and day-to-day responsibilities to develop Head skills!
  • Is your voice being heard at work, beyond your immediate team?  How can you expand your influence outside your work group and upward in your organization?

For men:

  • Are you remembering to bring people along as you pursue your lofty goals (Heart skills)?
  • Have you laid out a realistic plan and given people the training and the tools they need to partner with you on the journey (Hands skills)?

We need to remember that a significant percentage (over a third) of men do “start with the Heart” and a substantial number (over a quarter) of women do lead with the Head when facilitating change.  A common complaint from both these groups is that they can be misunderstood, because at times their behaviors seem contrary to others’ expectations:  men talking about exploring emotions and women about driving results.  Change intelligent teams and organizations embrace all perspectives so people at all levels are empowered, engaged, and equipped to partner together to lead mission-critical transformation.