Salesmanship vs Leadership

Salesman or leader? 

Captain Jared Smithson found himself, along with his troop of  good men, in a gully, pinned down  by enemy fire.  He saw no way to move forward, and he knew if he retreated with his team, he would incur severe criticism from his superiors.  Yet…he wasn’t prepared to die.  Not today.  Suddenly, he thought, “I know what to do.”  He gathered his men and told them, “Listen, you have an opportunity here.  One that may never reoccur.  You can stand together, make your Country and Company proud of you…push forward, firing as a single unit to take out the enemy troop that has us pinned down.  I’m sure there’s only a small unit.  While you’re doing that, I’m going to attempt another contact with the Communications base.  I’m sure you’ll make it through, and I’ll be right behind you.  However, in the unlikely event you’re unsuccessful, I’ll be able to tell your story of bravery to all your fellow countrymen.   I know you.  I know you’re ready to do what it takes.  Move forward NOW.”

In a parallel gully not far away, another similar troop, commanded by Captain Joseph Stern, was also pinned down, and had been for a lengthy period.  After considerable thought, and discussion with the troop on various military maneuvers that might be options..he stood up and shouted, “There are no medals for cowardice…only bravery.  I see but one clear choice,  and that is to move forward.  MEN…follow me.”

Both captains survived.  Both went on to other leadership roles.  I ask you, however, which one of these individuals was a salesman…and which a leader?  Which one do you want to work for today?  Which one would you trust?  Whose vision would you follow?

A leader. 

A person of truth and selfless service.   A person of good and strong character who, through their own actions and words, convinces others to follow.   This is my definition of a leader, and I’m going to suggest that while there are a lot of elements not mentioned, this definition might meet your basic standards as well. 

Leaders create an atmosphere of trust.  

They set the standard through their own behavior, and establish the ethical framework within an organization.

Leaders live and defend the climate you want to permeate the company.

  “Do what I do” versus “Do what I say.”  

Leaders encourage participation.  Captain Stern, while having responsibility for making the final decision involving all of the lives of the men in his troop, discussed alternative plans of action and encouraged participation.  He listened…to ensure he did not miss an option that could be a better solution.

Leaders provide a vision…a view of the future…with confidence of the group’s ability to obtain it. Success will occur when there is a united effort. 

John F Kennedy said “Courage — not complacency — is our need today.  Leadership not salesmanship.”  While that statement was rendered more than 4 decades ago, the words ring as true today as the day they were spoken. 

Salesmen tell you to “Go.” 

Leaders ask you to “Follow”.   Leaders move forward with focus, truthfulness, impatience, curiosity and bravery.  They believe that as Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Each day now, we see more of our heroes and heroines fall, in politics…in athletes…in entertainment… not to the bullets of our enemies, but to the results of their own lack of conscience or poor judgement. 

Did they fall prey to the salesmanship of those, including their own egos,  who said “Go” without asking where…or did they fail to take up their own leadership roles…the opportunity and responsibility their positions afforded them…to BE an example that inspired…others to follow?

Which are you?  Do you only “talk” a good story…or do you set the example of the behavior you want practiced in your organization.  Do you have a clear vision, well communicated,  so everyone knows where they’re going, and that you’re all going the same direction, at the same time?

Salesmanship or leadership?

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