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Taking a leadership lesson from history

By - Last modified: November 20, 2012 at 8:55 AM

We named him Henry.

We made a list of the most inspirational names we could think of: powerful, strong, smart, brave. While it also was on the list, we didn't think "Achilles" could cut it in today's world. But "Henry" could. So that's what we named our son.

What could this possibly do with sales? Continue on.

He's named after Henry V of England, whose victory at the Battle of Agincourt in October 1415 was so one-sided that history has canonized him to military sainthood. The French ground troops outnumbered the English 5-1. Using better strategy, better tactics and creating a greater esprit de corps amongst his homesick, sickly army, Henry routed the French so completely that songs were written about him. Shakespeare immortalized him in a play of the same name.

Want to get charged up for a day of selling? Just read Shakespeare's dramatic rendering of Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech — delivered in the play just before the battle to his demoralized crew. He inspired them to greatness.

OK. OK. The point.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from one of the most talented sales people I have ever met. She is a tsunami of activity and results. She sells with passion, talent and a drive that is so intense that she has been known to politely wave off anyone's interruption of her focus.

She owns every company sales record. She easily doubles the sales production of the next best sales person in any given month. Her clients are intensely loyal.

She quit her job.

My side of the phone was so quiet she thought her cellphone had dropped the call. She repeated, "I resigned from my company."

Truth told, one didn't require a soothsayer to see this coming.

The compensation plan was in constant flux. It changed three times in a single year! This caused economic whiplash for the sales team. Oftentimes they couldn't calculate how much they were taking home each month.

The company's strategy was evolving on almost a weekly basis. One week they were hunting foxes and the next week rabbits. Wait another week and it would be turkey. What are we selling today?

Most critical was the lack of stable, inspirational, committed leadership.

The company had changed sales leadership so many times in the past five years that some began to believe there was an ejector seat in the Chief Sales Officer's office. The sales team experienced every possible management style and was forced to react to each and adapt accordingly. One was autocratic, another hands-off, yet another was indifferent. One liked training. The next one hated it. The most recent occupant was so lost he was perceived as completely incompetent by the entire team.

The result? Incredible talents leave, company performance tanks and those that remain are hammered to make up the difference. Morale tumbles. Results get worse. The spiral continues.

Not every leader is Henry V, but that shouldn't stop you from looking for him or her — or developing them internally. Your company is in an economic war with your competitors and the last thing needed is defection of the troops!

Inspirational, objective-driven, smart, innovative, empathetic, willing and capable of entering the fray when necessary, patient, generous, humble, sincere. These are the traits that people follow. These are the characteristics that get people to fight when the odds look long. They inspire loyalty and commitment. When you find that person, do everything to keep them. They are a force multiplier.

Win the war — find your Henry V.

Or be like him yourself.

Patrick Morin is a partner at BrightHammer, a team of experts that work directly with company leaders nationwide to develop and implement sales strategy, deliver targeted sales training and effect sales-oriented culture changes. Email him here, or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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