Best workers don't always make the best managers

Dear Joan:
I am a successful salesman who recently took a promotion to sales management with the same company. For five years I ranked in the top 10 percent of sales of insurance products with my company. Well, it's been six months and I really wish I were back in sales.

When I took over I was very enthusiastic about it. I was going to develop and lead a team of successful sales people. The nine people I now supervise, however, are not as motivated as I was and it seems impossible to get them as excited as I was. We reward well as a company but a lot is expected also. Most of them seem to look at me as if I had some great secret to success. The truth is it was a lot of hard work and persistence. So how do I motivate them? If I can't do that then how do I move back to my old position as a sales person yet keep in good graces with my boss?

It's all too common for a company to tap a good technical performer on the shoulder and say, "You're a really good at what you do. How about being a manager and getting all your employees to be just as good as you are!" The problem is that not all great technical performers have the desire or the skills to be managers. Your letter clearly demonstrates that managerial success requires a whole new set of skills.

First, let's take a look at a few things that will help you to create a motivational climate. Then, if you decide that being a manager isn't for you, let’s take a look at how you can get your old job back.

To get you started with your sales people, I suggest that you think of yourself as a teacher. Reflect on what your "hard work and persistence" looked like on a daily basis. Be very specific and list on a sheet of paper exactly what you did. Pretend that you are talking to someone who has never sold anything before and spell out exactly what your behaviors were. For example: what you said to prospects, how often you contacted them, what notes you took after the meeting with a prospect, how you qualified leads, etc.

Next, have a one-on-one meeting with each of your sales staff. The purpose of this meeting is to develop an individualized development plan for each person.

1.      Find out what their goals are, both financial goals and their personal growth goals (and any other information that will help you coach each person).

2.      Ask them what they think their strengths and weaknesses are. Offer your input.

3.      During each meeting, ask the person for two or three things you can do to help him or her to reach their goals. Probe for specifics. For instance, if they say, "I'd like help finding prospects, "find out exactly what they're doing now and what kind of help they're looking for.

4.      At the end of the meeting, write down a few action plans for both of you to work on. For instance, in the prior example, the action plan might be to sit down with the person to develop a prospecting strategy.

During these meetings you will probably begin to see where their skills and behaviors differ from the way you used to sell. I suspect that you will find many opportunities to insert some ideas and tactics that you used. In other words, your job as their manager is to break down what you did to be successful and find ways to help them apply some of the best methods. At the same time, you need to be careful not to try to make everyone into an image of yourself. The trick is to help them find their own style, while making sure they understand and practice the tried and true basics.

Developing others is a slow process that requires patience. It's not for everyone. Some people would rather just do it, not teach it. They find it difficult and frustrating to coach other people. In cases like this, everyone would be better off if they went back to what they love best.

Let's assume that you are one of those people. If so, I suggest that you go to your manager and explain that as much as you appreciate the opportunity they gave you, you feel that you are a better sales person than a manager. Tell your boss that you feel that you would better serve the company, and those you supervise, by going back to your old job. Offer to stay as long as it takes to find a replacement.

You may also want to discuss how this will be communicated to your employees and everyone else who will hear about the change. Offer to handle the announcement yourself, so that you can put the right spin on the news and not look as if you've been asked to step down. Be upbeat and positive about the company and your decision.

If your company is smart, they will be grateful that you discovered your strengths aren't in managing others. They will be happy to let you do what you do best, and bring in a manager who loves the challenge of bringing out the best in others.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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