In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal”. Taking that as truth, it is also true, however, that we inevitably evolve into adults who behave very differently and perform at different levels. In fact, reality quickly reminds us of our differences and our uneven levels of contribution to common goals. Tempting as it is to believe we all deserve equal treatment and leadership in the workplace, this philosophy ends up being impractical, unmanageable, and shortsighted. Equal treatment, it turns out, can be the opposite of fair treatment. Here’s why:
For Fair Treatment, Rules are Rules, but…
We won’t delve into the realm of the Human Resources department and its necessary rules governing employee rights and responsibilities. Outside that organizational silo, however, is where most professional human interaction happens. Within departments. Between departments. Between people in those departments. The sales department in an organization is the same – but different. While sales teams and department staff are expected to work together and support the greater good, much of their work takes place beyond the walls of the employer. This makes it harder in many respects to assess, to manage, and to lead. So, it might be tempting for the Sales Manager or business owner to treat every salesperson the same. It would make things simpler, right? Maybe at first. But treating salespersons the same will likely end up rewarding poor performers, demotivating good performers, and undermining the culture.
Different People, Different Situations, Different Leadership
Beyond obvious physical differences, each person is unique in so many ways. We think differently, communicate differently, learn differently, respond and react to situations differently. We are motivated by different things, and demotivated by still other different things. We play different roles in society and in our workplaces. We have different levels of maturity, experience, and competency. And we react and perform differently as we confront different situations.
So how is the Sales Manager or business owner to lead with all these variables? The easy, but wrongway, in my opinion, is to treat everyone the same. You know how it works, right? If one person abuses a company policy, you come down hard on everyone. If one person excels, you reward everyone equally. Simple, huh? Maybe for a short while. But it won’t be long before your top performers are gone and you find yourself left with those whose primary motivation seems to be to get by with as little effort as possible. Frankly, your competitors won’t stand for that, and neither should you!
Great leaders, on the other hand, often adopt the “Situational Leadership” approach developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Situational Leadership responds and adjusts to the ever-present differences – in those being led and in workplace situations – to achieve balance and, yes, fair treatment.
A fundamental tenet of Situational Leadership is that effective leadership is always moving, always changing and responding not only to the people being led, but also to tasks, functions and performance parameters. Frankly, it is a style of leadership that has many tactical nuances; but at its core is this truth: people are different from one another, so they should each be led differently, too.
The Bottom Line:
People are gloriously unique. In the workplace, this creates exciting opportunity as we learn to utilize everyone’s strengths to maximize performance and achievement. Of course, such diversity in the workforce creates challenges for leaders. The easy way is to lead as if everyone were the same, as if everyone were unexceptional! But this style of leadership is ultimately destructive to the organization. Because of that, it may be just plain irresponsible to treat everyone the same. Radical thought? Not when you put it into perspective and into action.
Treat people fairly. Just don’t treat them all the same.
We understand and appreciate the unique contribution potential of diverse sales forces. I have the tools, resources, and experience to help Sales Managers and business owners lead sales teams effectively so sales and revenue grow – for the good of all team members. Contact us to learn more.