leadership errors

The Greatest Challenge Trainers and Leaders Face Is Shifting Gears

By Susan Ford Collins

New employees head into training sessions with great expectations about promotions, bonuses and creative contributions. But they are unaware of the leadership glitches they may confront as they transition from classroom to cubicle, manager to manager.

Trainers are well prepared to teach basic skills. They are organized and supportive, willing to answer questions and provide detailed answers until testing reveals their trainees are ready. But to succeed in the next phase, employees must traverse the sometimes treacherous crevasse between classroom-leadership expectations and the expectations of busy, numbers-oriented managers and CEOs. Let’s examine these transitions from a new perspective.

Success has gears

As you drive, you use gears to move ahead, slowly at first, then more rapidly and easily. As you succeed, you use gears too. Like good drivers, you must learn to recognize which gear is needed, and when and how to shift up and down.

1st Gear is for starting and restarting, for learning new skills and technologies. Keywords: try, can, can’t, possible, impossible, safe, dangerous, right, wrong, good, bad, always, never, rules, practice, test, retest and certify.

2nd Gear is for becoming productive and honing your competitive edge by deleting unneeded 1st Gear rules, devising shortcuts and developing efficiency. Keywords: quantity, quality, more, better, faster, longer hours, higher stress, higher profits, win, lose, prizes, promotions, bonuses, burnout and diminishing returns.

3rd Gear is for moving beyond the methods and systems in use; for inventing new methods, products and services. Keywords: breakthrough, insight, aha, discover, invent, innovate and start up.

Each Success Gear has a corresponding Leadership Gear

As a leader you must learn to identify not just which gear you are in, but also which gear others are in, and what kind of leadership they need.

When you lead someone in 1st Gear, you are responsible for teaching skills step-by-step, closely supervising progress, clarifying mistakes, testing, grading, and building self-confidence and enthusiasm.

When you lead in 2nd Gear, you manage from more distance, detailing what you want, providing feedback, accurate appraisals and career development steps. Even though your employees are working independently, you are still in charge, managing their productivity by numbers, charts and graphs, and building their self-confidence by rewards, raises and promotions.

The Shift to 3rd Gear Leadership is far more subtle and business-changing

You are responsible for providing a nurturing environment for innovation and invention--the very assets you need for the next phase of your business and industry. Day by day, you must be on alert for new ideas, listen to their creators and support them as they flesh out proposals, locate resources, and develop start up teams.

But not all leaders recognize which gear is needed or shift up, or down, at the right time.

Gear Shifting Errors cost time, money, and well-trained-experienced employees

Andrew was number one in his training class! But when his new manager completed his quarterly appraisal two weeks later, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, Andrew has not produced any results” and gave him the lowest performance score. But Andrew had performed at the highest level in the gear he was in… 1st Gear.

That manager’s low evaluation impacted his career until his 4th manager gave Andrew the highest performance score and asked why he wasn’t at a higher pay grade. He read Andrew’s past performance evaluations and gave him a raise to bring him to the compensation level he should be receiving, given his outstanding performance from the start. Fortunately Andrew stayed with his company but many employees leave and take their training with them.

Bob confronted a different but equally career-devastating Leadership Error... a manager who failed to downshift to support a top employee in crisis. A few weeks after Bob returned from SMB’s national convention, where he was invited to speak on “How to be a Top Sales Rep”, his manager announced they had lost the contract with a major healthcare provider over of profit margins. But instead of meeting with Bob, knowing losing that account loss would eliminate one quarter of his income, his manager tagged on the annual 6% increase and told him to “make up the difference however you can.” Bob was staggered! Now, just to make plan, he would have to produce a 31% increase!

At the convention the following year, Bob failed to receive a single award or acknowledgment, despite consistent hard work and steady progress,. And, most devastating of all, that year’s winner only exceeded plan by 10%, not 31%!

Having lost faith in his leaders, months later Bob accepted an offer from a competitor and, using the training, experience and information he had gained at SMB, Bob rapidly rose to the top of their sales team and bit off a huge chunk of SMB’s business.

The most devastating Gear Shifting Error of all… the loss of the next generation of ideas and leaders

One of the most profound expenses corporations face is the loss of their most creative thinkers because their leaders failed to gear up to support them. Michael Bloomberg persistently told Salomon Brothers that investors wanted real-time data and analytics and pushed for desktop computers instead of mammoth mainframes. But instead of utilizing his ideas, his bosses demoted him to IT. When Salomon merged a few years later, Bloomberg was dismissed and created the phenomenally successful Bloomberg Terminal which transformed the financial world.

Why most people can’t think “outside the box”?

When financial “push comes to shove” instead of leading individuals to creativity and innovation, do you or your leaders incent employees to stay in 2nd? Do you over-reward or disproportionately bonus more-better-faster behaviors? And under-reward the 1st gear learning and relearning your company needs to keep up? What 3rd Gear incentives and support systems does your organization have in place for nurturing the new ideas and approaches that will generate success in the future?

Shifting Success and Leadership Gears, at the right time, is a skill we all need to use and model at work and at home with our kids.

c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email susanfordcollins@msn.com

* For more on Self-Confidence, read Skill 1 in The Joy of Success and Our Children Are Watching.

THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS Book Series… compact, concise and powerful…

the perfect toolbox for today’s “always-on” global world.

$14.95 paperback$3.99 eBook


A Bad Year in the Life of a Top Sales Rep

Here’s important news! Success Has Gears… and so does Leadership

By Susan Ford Collins

As we drive, we use gears to move us ahead, slowly at first then more rapidly and easily. As we succeed, we use gears to move us ahead too.

First Gear is for starting anything new. Second Gear is for accelerating into productivity and competition. Third gear is for breaking through into creativity and innovation. No gear is better than any other; all are essential—each one has its own timing and use.

Each Success Gear has a corresponding Leadership Gear which specifically meets the needs of individuals and teams who are operating in that gear… the 1st Gear of Success/the 1st Gear of Leadership, the 2nd Gear of Success/the 2nd Gear of Leadership, the 3rd Gear of Success/the 3rd Gear of Leadership. Today most of us spend most of our time accelerating in 2nd Gear (more-better-faster-cheaper). And most of our managers are accelerating in 2nd Gear with us. Unless something unexpected occurs.

It was a peak moment. Bob had just returned from Pharmco’s national convention where he had been appointed to the President’s Council and invited to speak on how to be a successful sales rep. Because of Bob’s consistent high performance, he had won every mixer, toaster, bonus and trip, even one that landed Bob and his wife, via helicopter, on top of a volcano high above the clouds in Hawaii.

Finally Bob and Ellen felt secure enough to start a family and they had just received the long-awaited call: Ellen was pregnant. Elated, they took the steps they had been planning: they bought a larger home and a kid-friendly mini-van.

But a few weeks after the conference, Pharmco lost its contract with a major healthcare provider. The loss was over profit margins and had nothing to do with how well Bob was servicing their account. But instead of backing their loss out of Bob’s next year’s sales numbers, management simply tacked on the usual 6% increase.

Bob was staggered. He would have to produce a 31% increase just to make his numbers! Six per cent was a stretch but 31% was outrageous. He tried talking to his boss Howard and suggesting alternative approaches but, instead of being supportive, Howard accused him of having a bad attitude. That stung! Bob had always been seen as “positive and resilient.” In fact, those were the words his managers had included in past appraisals.

The next twelve months were tough. Bob had felt valued when he was exceeding expectations. But now he felt he had become upper management’s personalized message… no matter who you are or what you’ve done in the past, you have to increase your sales 6% each year. Or else.

Even though Bob was making steady progress, Howard kept delaying his appraisal. When they finally met, instead of acknowledging Bob’s successes and reaffirming his confidence in him, Howard was critical. Weeks later, his feedback was threatening. “Unless you start getting the job done, we’ll be forced to find someone else who can.”

It was time for the convention again, but this time Bob didn’t walk away with all of the prizes; in fact, he didn’t get any. But most devastating of all, this year’s top sales rep only exceeded his plan by 10%... and not 31!

Weeks later Bob was offered a job with a competitor. And despite lingering feelings of loyalty, he accepted it, eager to find a company that would be loyal to him as well.

What would skillful 1st Gear Leaders have done?

How would responsible leaders have behaved when they heard about the loss of the SMB account? As soon as they found out, they would have immediately asked Bob to meet. Let’s imagine sitting in and listening to what is being said. “Bob, we’ve just learned that we’ve lost the SMB account due to pricing, and we know this is going to affect you and Ellen profoundly. That’s why we’ve asked you to come in and think this through with us.” “SMB? Whew, it sure will. What happened?” asked a stunned Bob. “We simply couldn’t make the price point they insisted on. These things happen from time to time, but we don’t want it to hurt you. We would like to help you lay out a new plan and rethink your goals for the upcoming year.”

This kind of support would have been great, but it didn’t happen. If they had, Bob would have felt Pharmco’s leaders were there for him, and he would have reached his goals and taken home an award. And even if he hadn’t, he would have felt good about his company and been a far more motivated and loyal employee in the future! Instead they lost him to a competitor who gave Bob the support he needed and (with his inside track on the moves Pharmco would probably make) Bob soon became number one in their company. Unfortunately, millions of valuable employees are being lost in just this way because companies fail to understand this crucial shift leaders need to make from the 2nd Gear of Leadership back into 1st Gear... at times like these.

The mantra of today’s business is more-better-faster-cheaper. But when circumstances force you to gear down, to rethink and restart, will your company's leaders have the skills they need to help you? Or will they force you to move on and take the experience and inside-information you’ve gained into the open arms of a competitor who is all-too-eager to take away a significant chunk of their business?

(c) Susan Ford Collins. Contact me for permission to use it.

* For more information about the 2nd Success Skill, how to when to use all three success and leadership gears, read The Joy of Success and Success Has Gears.

The Technology of Success skill set empowers team members to move ahead together, instead of forcing one or more to leave and take their ideas and expertise, and your ideas and expertise, with them to a competitor.

THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS Book Series… compact, concise and powerful…

the perfect toolbox for today’s “always-on” global world.

$14.95 paperback$3.99 eBook