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Sales Leadership
Personal Agendas Always Trump Corporate Agendas
Dec 7, 2009 | Adrian Davis lock

Every corporation has a strategy. Vendors can increase the value of whatever they are selling by aligning it with the strategic objectives of the corporations they are selling to. We must remember, however, that nothing happens without emotion and corporations, although they are people in the eyes of the law, do not possess emotions. Corporations are vulnerable, therefore, to the emotions of the people they employ.

Typically, the mission and vision of the corporation come from the heart of the founder or CEO. As leaders, they are emotionally invested in the strategic outcome they are pursuing. The passion for their vision engages the emotions of others, who join them in their cause. Unfortunately, this emotional engagement often gets diluted along the way and many employees align their efforts with the mission of the corporation just to get a paycheque.

Emotions Drive Action

When the corporation's strategic objectives conflict with an employee's personal agenda, the personal agenda will always win. Why? Because emotions drive action. People are either driven toward something or away from something. The driving force is either fear or desire. So, even though something might make sense for the corporation, if it doesn't fit the personal agenda of the person you are selling to, they will not support it.

Take the time to understand the personal agendas of the people who buy from you. Help them see how what you're proposing not only meets the corporate agenda, it also meets their personal agendas.

The One Exception

The one exception to the personal agenda trumping corporate agendas is the Level 5 Leader.  The Level 5 Leader concept comes from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.
In my opinion, this is one of the best modern business books written.  Primarily because it is not based on opinion.  According to the Jim Collins web site, "To find the keys to greatness, Collins's 21-person research team (at his management research firm) read and coded 6,000 articles, generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and created 384 megabytes of computer data in a five-year project."  Jim Collins and his team analyzed a list of 1435 public companies and settled on 11 that made the leap from good to great and then sustained superior performance for at least 15 years afterward. Each of these companies were compared to another carefully selected company in the same industry that did not make the leap (the comparison companies).

Level 5 Leadership

The first and most important conclusion they came to is great companies had a different type of leadership. They had Level 5 Leaders.  These leaders possessed two distinguishing traits: First, they were extremely humble.  Whenever a problem arose, they looked in the mirror. Whenever they were praised, they looked through the window and gave credit to others.  Second, they possessed an iron will.  They knew what they needed to accomplish and they did everything in their power to achieve it.  Level 5 leaders are extremely rare.
An Example
One level 5 leader that I work with is Cameron Hay. He is the CEO of Unitron, a manufacturer of digital hearing instruments based in Kitchener, Ontario. I first met Cameron about six years ago, shortly after he assumed the role of CEO.  One of the first things you notice about Cameron is his humility.  He is soft-spoken and gracious. If you were to attend a company function, it would not be clear to you who the CEO is. However, as you interact with him, you quickly realize how incredibly intelligent he is and how driven he is.  He has gradually and quietly transformed Unitron from a second tier player into the fastest growing company in the industry. 

In observing this leader over the last six years, I've come to realize why level 5 leadership is so essential for making the leap from good to great.  First, the leap from good to great requires great and sustained energy.  The mistake a lot of leaders make is they think their charisma is what is required to inspire their people to greatness.  While charisma does inspire people to greatness, there are two problems that I have seen with this approach. First, the charismatic personality tends to overshadow all others.  Direct reports lose confidence in their own abilities as everyone engages in collective adoration of the leader.  As the charismatic leader becomes more and more decisive, the direct reports become more and more dependent on the leader's decisiveness.  This develops a culture that Collins describes as "the genius with a thousand helpers."  The second problem with the charismatic leader is the necessity of his or her presence.  Once the leader leaves, the organization implodes.  Collins suggests that the charismatic leaders secretly enjoys the implosion as it underlines just how critical he or she was to the success of the organization.

On the other hand, leaders without charisma, create another set of problems.  They tend to lack the power and influence necessary to get their team aligned around a common goal.  Strong personalities below them develop their own decisiveness and begin to drive the company according to their personal agendas rather than the corporate agenda. 

My observation of Cameron Hay is that while he has great humility, he has an even greater inner energy which  is tireless.  He has gone to great lengths to create corporate clarity around the company's mission, vision and values and has been very selective about who reports to him (Collins talks about getting the wrong people off the bus, the right people on the bus, and the right people in the right seats).
Key to Greatness
I think it is this inner energy of the level 5 leader that drives them to invest in clarity and in surrounding themselves with the right people. This is what is pivotal in making the leap from good to great. When they are surrounded by the right people, these people feel the freedom to develop their leadership abilities and in so doing, they bring the best of themselves to the corporate mission.  They respect the leader but they do not feel overshadowed by the leader.  They feel safe enough to speak openly and make tough and even risky decisions.  This collective momentum, over time, transforms the company. When the level 5 leaders leaves, there is no leadership vacuum. The leader ensures there is a succession plan in place because what matters most is the corporate mission not the personal agenda.

If you do have the opportunity to work with a level 5 leader, do everything you can to understand the corporate agenda.  This is what matters most when a leader is at level 5.

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