Leadership, actions, culture, and company development

Leadership is about actions, not words.

And to be a leader you don’t need to be a manager or a “C Level.” Anybody in the employment chain can be a leader. A sales rep, a secretary, a delivery driver … anybody.

Leadership can be defined many ways but for this example we’ll go with “One who works to push those in front of them, but also pull those behind them.”

Through actions, leaders show they are team players that want those around them to succeed, and every good company that is forward thinking wants to embrace and grow leaders.

To be a Wine Sales Leader (which is what I think every wholesale rep should strive to be) you show your leadership through your actions (innovation, consistency, reliablity, educating, pouring cool wines with passion and focus, bringing forth ideas), and through helping your co-workers (pushing those ahead of you, pulling those behind you … i.e. mentorship).

The big challenge in all of this resides with the top levels of company management at a wholesaler. To realize who the up and coming leaders are and give them autonomy to grow and develop through listening to them. To no longer protect the long-time employees that have the established accounts but don’t bring any new thought or energy to the game. To realize that it’s about actions, not tenure.

This is the sticky point for many good, established fine wine wholesalers. A handful of sales reps will hold their ground until the day they die, insisting that because they call on certain accounts they should keep those accounts forever … yet at the same time these reps don’t bring forth fresh ideas, good energy, or leadership qualities. Then the management protects the tenured sales reps, thereby ignoring the new potential wine sales leaders, allowing them to slip through the cracks and move on to other jobs with better companies. It’s a vicious cycle.

If a company watches their leaders quit and move on, it’s a symptom of something much deeper. At that point it’s about culture, and culture is not created, easily changed, or possibly defined. It just is. (You can’t demand culture. You can’t order people to respect others, for those words implicitly don’t respect who you are ordering to do that. That’s the true sign of a culture fraying at the edges.)

It’s impossible to adjust the culture without facing the hard reality that culture is top down, defined by the actions of upper levels of management. Culture can only be truly changed by changing who is at the very top.

Actions point the way to leadership, and the natural leaders with give insight to the culture. A good company culture allows for the growth of these potential leaders. This is the snowball effect of successful organizations, and a marker of success (don’t confuse profitability with cultural success … they are two very different things.)

But if the best potential leaders leave, you’re stuck with those riding the train of tenure, protected by management. Then the only new sales reps you can keep don’t bring forth leadership. Then you have a real problem.

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