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By Josh Hayman, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

We at Legitimate Leadership recently conducted a 15-month leadership transformation project in a major automotive brand’s retail operation. Over 100 of the business’s leaders, from the CEO down to frontline dealership managers, participated in the project, which was designed to help them understand and apply the Legitimate Leadership Model.

The project gave us the opportunity to witness many successes in shifting leaders’ intent from taking to giving, but one particular instance has stood out for me.

It is about a dealership sales manager in Pretoria –  Francois Fourie. When I met him at the start of the project he was a successful sales manager. He had a team of seven salespeople, most of whom had worked for him for several years. He regularly made his monthly sales target, and his people gave him consistent results – he would often find that 2-3 of his sales people would be in the Top 10 performing salespeople in the region every month.

At the start of the project Francois was assessed against the Legitimate Leadership criteria through confidential surveys with each of his subordinates (it is Legitimate Leadership’s view that the best judge of an individual’s leadership is his/her people).

Leaders are assessed in terms of what they give related to four core criteria:

The results came as a surprise to Francois – despite the fact that the team was doing well, Francois received feedback from his people that suggested significant opportunity for improvement in how he led them.

Francois took the feedback to heart, and set to work in applying the principles shared over the duration of the project. He gave particular focus to shifting accountability away from the results (number of cars sold) his people produced, and onto the contribution each sales manager needed to make in order to sell those cars.

Previously, Francois said, people would be simply managed on the basis on their results – which involved counselling those salespeople who hadn’t met the target each week, and encouraging those who had.

On reflection, he found that his salespeople would work inconsistently – if someone had done well in the first half of the month, he might take it easy for the second half secure in the knowledge he would meet his target. Francois would not worry about this, as long as the results were being met.

Instead, now he briefed his team that he would no longer be emphasizing accountability for results, but would be focusing on what the salesperson needed to contribute in the job. He ensured that he spent time every week with each person reviewing her contributions and giving feedback with the intent of enabling improvement. He spent time watching their sales games with customers, helped them to generate ideas for garnering new prospects, and kept them accountable for upholding deal file standards and administration. He ensured that they used all the means at their disposal to generate leads, kept up regular appointments with clients, and helped them think through what to do when they were struggling.

He ensured that he attended every application module we offered during the leadership project, attended every review session, and always brought practical problems and situations he faced at work for discussion and advice. In others words, he focused as intently on growing himself as he did on growing his team.

At our last contact session, Francois had had several months of exceeding his sales target by a significant margin (in the final month of the project his team had sold 45 cars against a target of 35), and all seven of his salespeople were now regularly in the Top 10 performing salespeople in the region every month.

He attributes this success directly to his application of the Legitimate Leadership Model: “There is no doubt that the improvement of our results is a direct consequence of applying this leadership model. My people contribute more than they ever have, are more willing to do so than ever before, and I am far calmer and more relaxed. I think my people prefer the new person I am.”

The last deliverable in our leadership project was to perform a follow-up assessment on each leader to see how their people’s perceptions of them had changed during the course of the project. In this time, Francois had seen only one change in the make-up of his team and so the pre- and post-assessments provided a good basis for comparison. The change in perception was nothing short of astounding – he improved significantly on every dimension.

Francois’s experience stands out for me because I think it shows quite clearly that one does not need a burning platform or business crisis to create a force for change. There was no external pressure on Francois to shift his intent – his results were already good. The difference here is that he took the feedback of his people seriously, and engaged his will to change.

The results have spoken for themselves.