By Rowena Abrahams, Contributing Editor, SAMA
“Who you are matters as much as what you do.”
Dr. Fred Kiel, co-founder of KRW International, a global leadership consulting firm and Kelly Garramone, CEO of KRW and Executive Director of the KRW Research Institute, prove that character “isn’t kumbaya.” Kiel is often referred to as a sage in the field of character science. He and his team have a large practice working with C-suite leaders across the nation. In 1993, Fortune magazine did a feature story on Kiel using for the first time the “coach” metaphor that is frequently used in business literature today.
Character may sound like a soft topic but Kiel and Garramone’s research shows that character is a critical component of leadership that delivers bottom line results. We can also argue that character is essential for SAMs whose reputations define their brand and whose brands determine their career.
Tough Leadership ≠ Good Leadership
The dominant view held through the 20th century was that tough leadership generates results. Leaders believed that the “soft stuff” was nice but unimportant as it does not bring value to the bottom line. Only the hard driving person who tells the truth and is brutal delivers results.
This same belief rang true in the world of sales training. In the past, sales has done a disservice by being in the business of creating human doings not human beings. The philosophy existed that if you “do this and do that” you will create results.
Today, we see that who you are matters as much or more than what you do. We have seen too many examples of Harvard MBAs who are sitting in jail because of their misbehavior.
Character Matters for Senior Leaders & SAMs
The most successful senior executives have done significant inner work and know themselves well. SAMS too can benefit from self-awareness especially as we are exiting COVID in a world of post certainty. Customers are attracted to great explainers – those who bring credible clarity to complexity.
“[SAMs] are no longer selling products and solutions. [They] are the solution.”Phil Styrlund, CEO, The Summit Group
The way in which SAMs show up matters as much as what they sell. Character accelerates customer engagement which is the real business of SAMs.
You May Not Show Up the Way You Think You Do…
Kiel’s findings show that there is often a disconnect between a senior leader’s “character score” (or intent) and his or her “reputation score” (how others perceive the leader’s character). For example, a leader may have a positive intent but be viewed by employees as untrustworthy. To assess their character, the best leaders regularly seek out feedback. This avoids receiving feedback that is too late or too painful.
…But You Can Change Your Character
The good news is that our behaviors are changeable. We can acquire and learn good habits and unlearn the habits of poor character. There are specific behaviors and habits that senior leaders can follow. In fact, Kiel has a set of usable tools to help leaders change their habits and improve their results.
It’s Worth It! Character Delivers Financial Results
Having high character brings financial results. Kiel surveyed 84 CEOs. In his research, the CEOs and their senior teams who had the best reputation among their employees for being people of strong character had a greater impact on financial results compared to self-focused leaders. They displayed:
- A nearly five times greater return on assets
- 26% higher workforce engagement
- Lower levels of corporate risk
- A reputation for being over 18% more skilled
The Four Habits of Leaders with a Strong Character
Character is an individual’s unique combination of beliefs and habits that motivate and shape how they relate to others. There are four core universal character habits for corporate leaders that directly correlate with business outcomes.
It is essential for leaders to have all four habits. They cannot just have one or two. It is the exceptional leader who puts all four habits together in a tough and exacting way.
- Integrity: You keep promises and own up to your mistakes. You do not treat others in shameful and blaming ways when they make mistakes.
- Responsibility: You take responsibility for your own behavior and choices.
- Forgiveness: You let go of your own and others’ mistakes.
- Compassion: You view your team and your team’s teams as comprised of human beings with a history, dreams and who juggle multiple things.
If you incorporate these habits, you will see them reflected in your organization’s success. Your organization will have a more positive culture, greater confidence in management and stronger innovation and collaboration. Each habit is reflected in the following way:
- Integrity creates a culture of accountability. You and everyone in your organization is seen as telling the truth and acting consistently with organizational beliefs.
- Responsibility leads to confidence in management. People take responsibility for their own choices and actions and embrace responsibility for the whole community and supply chain.
- Forgiveness leads to innovation. Being forgiving sets the tone for an environment where people can productively experiment and make mistakes.
- Compassion leads to collaboration. When leaders treat their teams as humans and are curious and open “their teams will bring more of themselves to work.”
Character + Skills = Results
“How does character turn into money? It is a chain reaction.”
A leader’s character (who the leader is) defines his or her decision making or skills (what the leader does). Senior leaders make two primary decisions: vision /strategic focus and the selection of their leadership team. A virtuoso leader chooses virtuoso team members and together they define and articulate measurable goals. This creates a culture of accountability.
When senior leadership is composed of high character, highly skilled members, it results in positive organizational dynamics and workforce engagement – an environment where employees are energized by the vision, clear on their priorities to support the strategy, and held accountable for their decisions and performance.
“When employees trust and respect the character of senior management, the conditions for workforce engagement rise.”
Why? Because high character senior leadership respects and cares for the workforce and ensures procedural fairness and support.
And here’s where this all begins to add up to results – a differentiated financial performance. Virtuoso organizations are ones with superior innovation, adaptability, teamwork, collaboration and communication. This is all made possible by a highly engaged workforce that has confidence in management.
So How Can You Become a Virtuoso SAM? Participate in a New Research Initiative
- To what extent are sales leaders the same or different than general leaders?
- What is the difference between virtuoso SAMs and regular SAMs?
SAMs can now take part in an exciting research initiative, sponsored by SAMA, through Dr. Kiel, his colleagues at the KRW Research Institute and their partner, The Summit Group. This research will define these differences and help SAMs acquire the habits needed to excel.
Kiel and team will test their hypothesis that the mindsets/skillsets SAMs need to leverage their character habits are tactful audacity, proactive creativity, customer centricity, and authenticity.
If you would like to participate in the research, visit here. It’s complimentary. You will receive:
- A report summarizing your reputation against the current database of general leadership
- Eight or nine months later, you will receive the same data benchmarked against other sales leaders and sales teams
How do you think character is essential as a SAM? Comment below. We would love to hear from you.