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Account Managing Versus Account Leading

Let's look at the difference between managing and leading. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably—such as when people refer to someone in a management position as a leader—but there are important distinctions.

The difference between managing and leading is the difference between doing things right versus doing the right things. Doing things right means being efficient. Doing the right things means being effective. Sales leaders are efficient when they get quotes and other work done quickly. They are effective when they are calling on the right companies and the right people.

Sales leaders really need a combination of both attributes. You need to do the right things right. You need a combination of effectiveness and efficiency. In either case, if you are ineffective or inefficient, you can be out of business.

Account managers tend to an account. Account leaders create business. They line up support behind their proposals. They create support and commitment. They create excitement.

Leadership requires aligning and enabling people. The objective is to create options for effectively handling unpredictable situations. Leadership is focused on developing capabilities to address multiple scenarios and to have the right individuals embrace the challenges of identifying and executing those scenarios.

The differences in results between managing and leading are like the differences between night and day. And, just like night and day, we need both. We need leadership in times of change. The more change there is, the more leadership we need. The more change that has to take place, the more we need leaders. Yet we also need to be able to manage our resources wisely.

The key for any leader is to be adaptable enough to recognize when he or she needs to use a different style and to work comfortably in that style. The people who have the most difficulty are the ones who get locked into a style that is not the best one for the situation they face or the people they are working with. The people who are the most successful are those with the self-confidence and skills to adapt to new market requirements and who can inspire others to follow them.

Leadership or Loyalty?

Some people confuse leadership and loyalty, thinking that if you follow their directions you have leadership ability. It doesn't take a lot of thinking, decision making, or initiative to follow directions—it takes loyalty. Managers usually value loyalty, even above competency. It's not surprising when you think about it. If you gave someone instructions to do something and he or she didn't do it quite right, you would give the person credit for at least following your directions. But if you instructed someone to do something and that person not only intentionally didn't do what you asked but also didn't tell you about not doing it, your reaction would be different. You would be mystified, annoyed, or worse. But that reaction is provoked by an offense to your sense that the person should be loyal to you, not by your estimation of the person's leadership skills.

In a military operation, people need to follow directions or there will be confusion and loss. But even in the military, a commander must be able not only to follow orders but to communicate, initiate, and inspire the troops to do their best when it's most difficult to do so.

Sometimes, people choose not to follow a particular directive but still get the results the director wanted. In that case, their indiscretion will likely be overlooked. In fact, it may be seen as "being resourceful." This trait may be valued because the person is still supporting the company in accomplishing an objective, even though he or she may not have done it in a conventional way. You could say the person was demonstrating an aspect of leadership. People will say about these situations "It is easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission." That's true as long as you get the results.

Some bosses don't even go this far in granting people the autonomy to figure out how to do their jobs. They micromanage. They take away the person's ability to lead, to make independent decisions. The boss suffers and so does the organization, because micromanaging results in suboptimal solutions. As a sales leader, you need to encourage your support team to use their creative talents to get the job done and to let you know if they have a better way of doing it. You may still want them to do it, if it is within your authority, and as the salesperson that is your prerogative. You will expect them to carry out the decision knowing that they had a chance to influence the decision.


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