In my latest book. I describe Hidden Leaders as the people in companies that provide a powerful leadership presence despite the fact that their title or position provides them little to no authority. In fact. the topic I’ve received the most feedback on from the book is the importance of leading through relationships.
To the naked eye, it may seem they are simply able to get things done. Look closer, and you’ll see that they are demonstrating strong leadership and influence by dint of relationships they’ve developed. Look closer still, and you’ll see that it isn’t simply niceness or collegiality that has earned them this influence. Too many people seek to establish trusting business relationships centering on likeability. I’m not suggesting that likeability isn’t good, only that it isn’t sufficient. When I observe Hidden Leaders in action, they lead through relationships in the following ways:
- They possess a technical or professional expertise. That expertise may be based on their function, like engineering, manufacturing or specific to technology. The technical expertise needn’t be technological though as it may come from a discipline like sales, or customer service, or accounting where they’ve established a track record. Whatever the source of that proficiency, it strengthens relationships and supports the connection to others in the business, because with expertise comes trust, which is the foundation of business relationships.
- They are recognized as having good judgment and rational thinking. Colleagues view them as being able to understand what the business is trying to accomplish, and having the ability to think of pragmatic approaches. That doesn’t mean they are always right, though. But even when they aren’t correct, it is easy to see the reasoning and course of thinking they used. In this way, Hidden Leaders are frequently able to express their rationale for an idea to be implemented, an innovation to consider, or a process to be changed. So even when there is disagreement, the logic is clear.
- They are good at making emotional connections with others. I’m always careful about using that phrase. In fact I wrote an article for Harvard Business Review on the ways leaders make emotional connections, and I’ll reiterate that I’m not talking about wild displays of emotion or what is pejoratively labeled as “being emotional.” I could replace “emotional” with “human,” I suppose, because the essence of these connections is that logic supports thinking and emotions support action. So using emotions as a means to connect with colleagues is powerful. That could be the energy-creating effect of enthusiasm or passion, the collaborative sense of mutual concern or frustration, and the effect of engagement on shared goals. People rarely act on information or data alone, and when we influence each other, emotion is almost always part of the equation. Hidden Leaders tap into those emotions.
The last thing I’ll note about the relationships cultivated by Hidden Leaders is that they tend to be across the entire organization, spanning divisions, geography, and even hierarchy. That is what enables them to get results, as most of the pain points in businesses occur in the cracks between organizational silos. Hidden Leaders are able to rely on relationships in spite of boundaries in the organization, to fill in those cracks.
Try identifying your Hidden Leaders. Who are they? What do they do differently? Ask yourself what kind of an impact it would have on your business if more employees behaved as they do — even 20% or 30% more? My bet is that you’ll see great power in cultivating more of them. And if you are reading this article, it is likely that is your job.
In this podcast, Scott discusses the hidden leaders that are often not given credit within an organization. He also talks about the 4 characteristics of leadership behavior that all employees can exhibit and why it’s so important that employees understand what it means to really act as a business owner.
On the ride back from Redwood City to San Francisco, my manager John and I hardly said a word to each other. We’d just left the headquarters of Oracle, and one of my worst sales calls ever. During the meeting, I had done my best to identify specific objectives the company might have that would benefit from our sales- and leadership-training programs. I talked about the problem of decreasing employee turnover, how fostering teamwork encourages cross-selling, the challenge of improving new-product launches. Nothing resonated. I tried to discuss the impact of current market conditions, like competitive pressures on margins, and the specific circumstances created by a recent acquisition, to probe for an opportunity to bring value. I even described similar client circumstances to illustrate the kinds of results we had achieved. I was met with no interest. Zip, zilch, nada.
To break the deafening silence, I said to John, “Can you just tell me what the hell went wrong in there, or are you going to lead me through some laborious process of self-discovery?”
We both laughed, and then we had a very useful conversation. I knew how he coached, and it was extremely valuable on most days. We would dissect each interaction together. He would typically ask me what I thought was effective, and we’d discuss what the client had responded to best. Then we’d talk about what could have gone better, and he’d highlight skills to improve. The discussions were always focused on how I could further develop my abilities and meet my goals.
John Rovens was a terrific coach, and he invested a significant amount of time in my development as a sales professional. By the end of 1998, my third year in sales, I was the number 2 salesperson worldwide in the division of the Fortune 500 company we both worked for. I quickly became proficient at creating value in selling in large part because of the culture of coaching John created in our office.
We hear constantly about the importance and value of coaching, especially in sales. But, the reality I have observed while working with hundreds of organizations is that a true culture of coaching rarely exists. In a survey I conducted few years ago with a sales team in a Fortune 500 telecom company, I found an interesting contrast. Leaders reported that they spent a considerable amount of time coaching their direct reports and scored themselves high on their efforts– on average, just shy of the 80th percentile. Direct reports responded by saying that they’d received little to no coaching from their leaders and scored them low — on average around just the 38th percentile.
Then the leaders criticized their direct reports for being a bunch of ungrateful complainers. In their minds, these leaders had devoted all kinds of time to coaching.
But in reality that simply wasn’t so.
My observation is that in most cases, the further you go up the chain from managers, to directors, to VPs, the more sales leaders ask for help from their direct reports to do their own jobs, rather than investing time in improving the performance of their people.
Maybe a manager will spend time coaching his direct reports. But a manager getting coached by a director? Or a director being coached by a VP for sales? That almost never happens. Instead, time for coaching to improve future performance is increasingly crowded out by time spent tracking and scrutinizing past results – that is, time spent requesting forecasts, reviewing pipelines together, revising forecasts, and pushing to close more deals in this quarter.
That may be necessary (well, that’s a whole different subject really), but if you want to improve the capability of your sales organization, rather than just keep track of it, coaching is the most powerful lever you have. And, creating a culture of coaching is your best bet. Here is how:
- Establish uniform expectations. Everyone, from the executive vice president of sales down to the frontline sales manager, needs to share the same definition of what good coaching is. Good coaching includes observation and feedback, certainly, but also strategy development, creating opportunities for practice, and even detailed help in meeting preparation. John Rovens had a specific development goal for each of the members on our team. He himself was also coached by his boss, our regional vice president, to help him become a more effective coach. Setting expectations for coaching is a strategic imperative that the CEO and executive committee leaders must drive. You can’t simply declare “There shall be a coaching culture” or delegate its development to the VP of sales or HR. The decision to create a coaching culture must be done in the context of a broader corporate goal — a growth strategy to increase revenue, perhaps, or a need to speed the time it takes new salespeople to become productive, or a desire to decrease costly sales turnover.
- Highlight the exemplars and use them to spread your best practices. In any sales organization, everyone knows who the best sellers are. Frequently they are top producers, but not every one of them always exhibits the behavior you may want to foster. Look for the great sellers throughout the business who are doing the work in the way you want to see everyone working, and use them as role models, even if they’re not atop the revenue leader board. As it happened, during my first 18 months in sales, my assigned mentor was the top rep in our company the prior year. His name was Steve Lunz, and I had the chance to accompany him on many sales calls during my first 18 months with the firm and through him see how our company succeeded with clients. He showed me how to reach truly mutually beneficial agreements with clients, and I paid careful attention to how he did it. In exchange, I took notes and helped with follow-up and with the subsequent engagements.
- Provide rewards to those who engage in coaching and consequences for those who opt out. Coaching should not be viewed as extra credit or something to do if you have time on your hands. If it’s a priority for you to develop sales talent in your business, reward those who coach well just as you would any other key responsibility — with recognition, compensation, and promotion. Otherwise you’ll end up denying some of your developing talent the support they’re entitled to, the support required to grow your business. This is likely to require a mind-set shift for some. For those who don’t manage it, place them in a job where developing others isn’t important. There are a lot of people promoted into sales management and leadership roles who have great strength in selling but really don’t have an interest in coaching. Let them sell.
Before you suggest that this seems like a lot of work, I’ll concede the point. Coaching is a lot of work. But it needn’t take extra time if you consider the scope of activities sales leaders currently engage in. Take an honest look at the volume of effort your sales organization devotes to reporting, inspection, and scrutinizing results versus the time spent actively engaging in improving results. Create a coaching culture, and your leaders will spend considerably more energy on the latter.
In a survey I conducted a few years ago at a Fortune 100 telecommunications company, I found an interesting contrast:
- Sales leaders report that they provide considerable coaching to employees and score themselves high.
- Sales leader direct reports responded by saying that they receive little to no coaching from their leaders and score them low in this area.
This is not just the front line. It’s from managers, directors, and vice presidents, too. And the higher up the data went in the structure, the worse the discrepancy.
Coaching is about improving performance—improving performance by developing ability. It is not entirely different from the way a coach in athletics or the arts does it. They provide a model or a standard of performance, and then they carefully analyze the performance in order to make necessary changes. Sometimes they participate; other times they simply provide guidance and direction. But the focus is always on improving the ability of the person being coached.
In sales, requesting forecasts, reviewing pipelines together, revising forecasts, and asking if there is anything else that can be done to close business in this quarter—among other activities—isn’t coaching. Those things may be part of the job, but they aren’t coaching, and that is why my survey data showed those outcomes. Too often, management interactions are more about requesting information and discussing results instead of coaching to improve performance.
So, no matter the role, if you want people to perform better, you have to dedicate time, effort, and energy to coaching. And if you manage a sales team, it is useful to be clear on which of the following tactics you’ll employ. (As an aside, the same tactics hold true for sales leaders coaching their direct reports, though these examples are for coaching sales professionals.)
4 Sales Coaching Tactics
1. Role Model: You manage the sales call
There are plenty of reasons why you may choose to run the sales cycle or a sales call entirely, especially if you are working with new salespeople. You may want to illustrate a certain skill set, such as asking strategic questions, or you may want to demonstrate how to manage a particular kind of client.
When you set the example, it is important to discuss the specific behaviors you will be modeling prior to the call. That way you can draw attention and reference the approaches that you used and to what effect during a post-call debrief.
Demonstrating different approaches to client interactions can be effective even with senior sales professionals because it can highlight subtle adjustments that can lead to greater effectiveness.
2. Active Observer: You watch the sales call, paying attention to specific behaviors
It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be a seller and a coach at the same time. So, if you are going to coach, then as much as possible you ought to be in the observer role and allow your salesperson to manage the entire client interaction. Do that even if it means your salesperson makes mistakes or manages the call differently from how you would like to see it handled.
There is nothing harder than watching someone struggle with something you know how to do, but allowing your seller to do so will enable him to learn and grow. There is one giant caveat here, and that is I’d never suggest being an observer on a high-profile call that has a great deal of business at stake. Do observation calls with low-risk clients or with accounts that don’t represent a significant opportunity. This is practice, and you need to actively identify areas to build on, as well as address weak points.
3. Teammate: You actively participate in the sales call with a clearly defined area of focus
When manager and seller are both in selling mode, it is crucial to be clear on who is responsible for what topics, what questions each of you will ask, and what issues each of you plans to handle.
Team selling is powerful when both members of the team are coordinated, but without the appropriate pre-call planning, you run the risk of stepping on each other’s toes and looking unprofessional in front of potential clients.
Think of a kayak with the rowers in sync and the velocity they achieve compared with a kayak in which both rowers are out of rhythm. The latter can be counterproductive, so take time to carefully plan your calls.
4. Strategist: You support the sales call with guidance and advice in planning and in debriefing
You can’t go on every sales call, nor should you. In those cases, your coaching involves providing strategic input on an account or client situation. You provide guidance and coaching before client interactions and after them to help your team advance opportunities.
A few ways you can help without actually going on the sales call:
- Help your sellers plan calls effectively
- Develop strategies to move prospects through the pipeline
- Get clear on how your sellers intend to create value and uncover needs
When you are coaching your people, odds are you are fulfilling one of the above roles. If you aren’t, then you ought to ask yourself if what you are doing is really coaching.
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.
Everybody recognizes the importance of leadership in the C-suite, but we don’t always give it the attention it deserves in the trenches—where execution is the name of the game. Nevertheless, there are lots of so-called “hidden leaders” on the front lines, and supervisors and middle managers who know how to find and nurture them can enhance performance in their teams and provide a great boon to their companies.
Who are these hidden leaders? “They are the people who are putting your organization’s strategy into practice, carrying out your quarterly plans, and bringing the value of your organization to life for customers every day,” says Scott Edinger, the founder of Edinger Consulting Group. “They are the employees who make the engine run.”
In Hidden Leader: Discover and Develop Greatness within Your Company (AMACOM, 2015), Edinger, along with co-author Laurie Sain, explains that these often unrecognized and, thus, underutilized employees can set the standards for performance excellence and bring energy to their teams; they serve as trustworthy sounding boards for supervisors and peers alike and are the go-to guys and gals for critical assignments. Edinger generously agreed to answer a few questions to help you harness the power of the hidden leaders on your teams.
Safari: How can supervisors and managers identify hidden leaders?
Edinger: The simplistic answer, which I often hear from CEOs and division leaders, is to look for employees who “act like owners.” This made perfect sense to me until one day, when I suggested that a group of call center employees should act like owners and one of the operators snapped back, “Does that mean I get to drive a nicer car, come in late, and do whatever I feel like?”
He got a good laugh, but it struck me that the vast majority of people don’t have ownership stakes in their companies, and as a result, they have no idea what it means to act like an owner. So I started to talk to executives about what it really means and their answers led me to the four facets that characterize the behaviors of hidden leaders:
- Focus on results: Hidden leaders are not simply trading time for money. They are focused on outcomes and the achievement of goals.
- Demonstrate integrity: Hidden leaders can be counted on to do what they say they will do. They follow through on their commitments, speak up when something is not working, and give clear feedback.
- Lead through relationships: Hidden leaders establish relationships to get work done. They promote teamwork and collaboration within and across organizational silos.
- Customer purposed: Hidden leaders understand how their companies create value for customers and they are able to get beyond everyday process and tasks to ensure that value gets delivered.
Safari: What if no one on my team clearly demonstrates all four facets? Does that mean that I have no hidden leaders?
Edinger: Not necessarily, although it does mean that you’re going to have to do some coaching and mentoring. Remember, we aren’t looking for people who are perfect in each of these areas—people like that don’t exist. We’re looking for people who are good or really good in terms of the four facets, and then, we’re building on that foundation by helping them cultivate good performance into profound strengths.
Safari: Can we create an organizational environment that stimulates the emergence of hidden leaders?
Edinger: Yes, and the formal leaders in a company should do exactly that. What if you could raise the number of hidden leaders on your 12-member team from one or two to six or seven? Think about the tremendous effect would that have on the performance of the team.
That said, there isn’t a silver bullet – there is no one training program or compensation plan that will make this happen. It’s really the culture of an organization that enables hidden leaders to flourish—and that is the responsibility of formal leaders, particularly senior leaders. We’ve found that cultures that emphasize open communication, shared understanding and alignment vis-à-vis strategy and goals, teamwork and collaboration, organizational learning, customer focus, innovation, and a clearly-defined set of values are ideal for unearthing hidden leaders.
The Hidden Leader, by Scott K. Edinger and Laurie Sain, is being featured on IEDP’s blog this month. IEDP is the UK’s Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners which offers advisory services to leaders and professionals.
Moe Abdou and Scott Edinger discuss ways for managers to discover their secret saviors and enable them to deliver even greater value to customers.
A summary of things you should know about The Hidden Leader according to Scott Edinger:
In this episode Scott Edinger takes a deep dive into his and Laurie Sain’s book, The Hidden Leader, where they reveal a unique way to develop greatness within a company.
In their book Edinger and Sain provide a systematic blueprint of a new style of leadership called Reverser Mentoring where senior leaders are mentored by their employees. The goal of the book is to show you how to recognize true leaders within your company, effectively utilize highly talented employees, and build valuable, long-lasting relationships with any employee.
This book is perfect for entrepreneurs who lead their organizations with a creative mindset and are looking for a way to effectively make the most of under-utilized employees.
The Book’s Unique Quality (3:36)
There are thousands of books on leadership but the majority of them all seem directed at people who are in positions of leadership but there are very little directed at people who are your average citizen.
The Best Way To Engage (4:45)
I designed the book to be read from front to back but if you want to cherry-pick information along the way you can do that too.
The Reader’s Takeaway (13:59)
I want the reader to know that leadership has nothing to do with position or title; it’s what your actions are.
A Deep Dive Into The Book (5:47)
Hidden leaders look for what the outcome is or how success is defined in any given endeavor and then they figure out how they are going to do something. I am not saying they are renegades to the process but they are willing and able to look for the result that we are seeking and understand it. Another thing I see a lot of from hidden leaders is that they lead through relationships. They can’t boss anyone around or tell people what to do so they are really good at leading through relationships and that does not mean they are the popular person. Usually these hidden leaders have some kind of great technical expertise. They secondly understand the organization broadly and know way more than just their function and are able to knit teams together when they need to get things done. Thirdly, they are able to make a connection with people. The last thing that I wanted to share that I think is the heart of everything is the idea that hidden leaders demonstrate integrity.
NOTE: That was just a summary. To get the full deep dive, play the audio clip at 05:47
Notable Quotes From The Book (14:26)
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and become more you are a leader. “ – John Quincy Adams.
The Credibility/Inspiration Of The Author (0:35)
Companies like AT&T, Lenovo, and Los Angeles Times hire me to work with their senior leaders. I start with senior leaders because as the senior leaders go so goes the organization. I work with them on creating growth strategies and how to create differentiation in their business as well as how to lead effectively.
A few years ago I was talking with a former colleague of mine and he was telling me about a project he was working on called Reverse Mentoring. The notion here was that instead of senior partners mentoring, the associates would mentor the senior partners. And those senior partners learned a great deal not only about technology but also about client services and some new ways to approach that. I thought that was such an interesting idea and then the next day I read an article about reverse innovation. I ended up thinking about it all when the hidden leader concept was born and then I found my publisher.
Other Books Recommended By The Author (15:45)
High Performance Sales Organizations by Darlene Coker and Ed Gaizo
More Information About This Book and The Author
Buy The Hidden Leader by Scott Edinger and Laurie Sain on Amazon today
Visit EdingerGroup.com to learn more about Scott and his exclusive content
Visit TheHiddenLeader.com to learn more about the book
Follow Scott Edinger on Facebook and Twitter
Every time I’ve worked with a senior team in the strategy formulation process, we’ve succeeded. Of course, I’ve never heard any group of executives say their strategy failed when it was created. It is in the implementation or execution that strategies falter, because most strategies rely on people in the organization taking action in new or different ways. That doesn’t happen by declaration. And it doesn’t happen when people are sent to training programs, though it is popular to pitch this to HR or Talent Management. If you want your strategy to work, it is up to the CEO and senior leaders of the business to drive it and you’ll need the help of what I call Hidden Leaders to be your exemplars and role models.
Hidden Leaders are the individual contributors, front line supervisors, and middle managers that bring your strategy to life everyday. They are the employees who go the extra mile for your customers, the ones who can be counted on to deliver great results, the ones whose opinions are trusted by colleagues; they are your go to people at every level of the business. I wrote the book The Hidden Leader because we don’t often think of leaders occupying these kinds of roles. Leadership has come to mean position or title in most companies, but there is a tremendous amount of leadership in places we don’t typically look that is lying fallow.
So while it is necessary to have good leadership in the senor management ranks, it’s not sufficient to achieve the growth many CEO’s desire. But, you’ll have few Hidden Leaders if the very visible leaders don’t establish the kind of culture that cultivates leadership at all levels. Since culture is really about the mindset or beliefs that guide behaviors, that is your starting point.
- Can you identify the people who have the greatest influence on how people in your company, division, or office behave?
- Does your business provide reinforcement for the behaviors you desire, separate from results achieved? (e.g. Rewards for innovative efforts that don’t work out.)
- Are there consequences for behaviors that are counterproductive, even if the outcome is a win?
I’ve seen very sound strategies fail, and average strategies achieve strong objectives. The difference in the CEO’s was the creation of an environment that allowed them to rely on leaders at all levels to power the implementation.