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By Teigue Payne, Legitimate Leadership.

The following is the description of the experience of a sales director in a successful motor dealership.

“I had a very good sales lady – in fact, the top in the country for our brand. About eight months ago, she won a prize to go abroad because of her sales performance.

When she returned, her attitude had changed and she was very opinionated. She was still a good salesperson but now she had the attitude, “I’m untouchable, no one can tell me anything, and I’m going to have it my way”.

I tolerated this attitude partly because she was a top salesperson.

After her return, her “opinionated” period lasted 3-4 months. Thereafter, she returned to her old self.

Then, a month ago she started acting the princess again, with obvious mood swings and a readiness to snap at me or anyone else in the dealership – even about small things. For instance, if someone had misplaced a key, she would fly off the handle, attacking that person and others. Generally she didn’t carry over this attitude to clients, although I overheard her once telling a client that he could “take it or leave it”. That was not our normal way of addressing clients!

I didn’t know how to handle this, so I tolerated it. Most managers I know would have tolerated it given her top sales performance.

But on one of the Legitimate Leadership workshops I attended, I spoke to Joshua Hayman. He advised me to simply talk to the saleslady in a non-aggressive way. In the past, I probably would have tolerated the situation for a while, but if it became too bad I might have burst and aggressively confronted the offender.

In this case, I took the saleslady aside and said to her no one had complained about her, but I had observed that she was being negative and attacking people.

She was stunned and apologised.

I asked her why she had been behaving in this way. Her initial response was that it was “personal”; later she told me that it was financial – her husband was not doing well and they were under considerable financial pressure.

Currently, our country is not thriving, sales are not good, and many people are experiencing financial difficulties. I advised her not to just think about herself – “don’t think you are the only one, everyone is in the same boat,” I said.

I advised her that if she was feeling stressed she should rather not talk to anyone – for instance, she could withdraw for a while and do some admin.

Since my talk with her, she has been much better, as though something has fallen of her shoulders – she has been her old self, in fact.

I think the sales award may have taught her that she could act the princess, so she unconsciously reverted to that mode when she was stressed.

Before the input from Legitimate Leadership, if I had talked to her at all, I would have taken a more aggressive stance. If she had snapped, I would have snapped back. The Legitimate Leadership programme teaches you to go back and think about it, and not just act immediately on what you feel.

I also had somewhat similar problems with my second-best salesperson. He was being dishonest in small ways which were actually easy to detect. If there was a problem, he would lie rather than come forward with the problem. For instance, we have a computer system on which we load activities. He would lie that an activity was done today when in fact I knew it had been done yesterday and he had delayed loading it.

I had planned to confront him to tell him that we could not work like this any more – that he would have to change or he would have to go. I had planned to gather evidence for a hearing with a view to dismissing him.

But following input from Joshua Hayman, a few months back I decided not to go for a formal hearing, but to first sit with him to hear what he had to say. As with the top saleslady, I had worked with him for four years.

It transpired in our talk that the reason that he had been lying was fear. He has since corrected his behaviour.

From my side, the pattern in both cases was that with these top sales people, I had allowed too much slack, I had been too lenient. The other salespeople noticed this – no doubt they saw it as a kind of favouritism.

But it was likely to have a bad ending. This is because eventually, if the problem became too bad, I would burst and be aggressive.

Now, it doesn’t matter whether they are top or normal salespeople, I say they all need to know what the boundaries are.

Now, it is much better because through regular communication, they know what is not acceptable.

My sales figures have not suffered at all – although it’s always difficult to compare the past with the present because market conditions change.

The moral of the story is: just sit down and speak to them!

JOSHUA HAYMAN COMMENTS: The context of my advice in both of these cases was the ongoing application programme and peer coaching Legitimate Leadership is doing in the company concerned.

In the first case, I suggested to the sales director that she should simply confront the saleslady with concrete examples of her behaviour, ask her why she was behaving that way, and listen to the response – in other words, suspend her own agenda before deciding what to do.

The second case was part of feedback she gave in a session about her own Leadership Profile. My observation was that by putting up with the dishonesty she was committing “the soft mistake”. She needed to confront the person with his behaviour, and again listen for the response before deciding what to do.