A Call for the Modern Sales Leader

I recently found myself in Chicago conducting a sales workshop and decided to extend the trip through the weekend with my wife. We took the opportunity to explore the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, IL. It was fascinating to see how Wright seamlessly blended architecture with nature. The tour guide explained Wright shared Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental philosophy and believed that the connection between a building and its landscape was crucial. A speech, The American Scholar, given by Emerson many years before Wright’s birth, guided his architectural designs, aiming for a more profound moral and principled relationship with his work.

As I wandered back in time through Wright’s home and studio, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the world of sales leadership. It struck me how sales leaders could benefit from stepping back amidst the constant noise from social media influencers, an over-dependence on technology, and the reliance on traditional sales methodologies. There’s something to be said about reconnecting with our thoughts and feelings to uncover fresh ideas and innovative solutions to challenges in sales leadership.

My light reading on the plane ride home was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 speech at Harvard College. The term American Scholar, popularized by Emerson then, may now evoke images of dusty libraries and academic debates. Instead, let’s think: what can an almost 200-year-old speech teach us now? What did it teach Wright, then? Emerson calls for American scholars to be engaged, optimistic, and forward-thinking. He views the role of the American intellectual regarding nature, books, and action as three different influences required to forge new paths. In our current age, there is a need for transformative, disruptive leadership, but there may not be a clear path to get there. I could see where the American Scholar concept demands a dusting off and fresh interpretation extending beyond the university campus and into your sales organization.

Three Pillars of the American Scholar

Nature: The Original Thought Leader

Today’s fast-paced lifestyle often neglects the grounding effects of nature. Yet, by connecting with the outdoors, we don’t just escape the chaos; we also gain critical insights into the world and ourselves. Communing with nature helps us perceive the richness and complexity of existence, paving the way for groundbreaking ideas.

Being in nature relieves stress, recalibrates our emotional compass, and rejuvenates our mental energy. It fosters mindfulness, pulling us away from digital distractions and helping us focus on the present moment. Nature also sparks creativity by removing the mental blocks caused by routine and clutter, allowing for an uninhibited flow of thoughts. The tranquility of nature often leads to introspection, helping us align with our core values and life goals. So, in nurturing a connection with nature, we’re not just observers of its grandeur; we become active participants in a beneficial relationship that enriches our personal and professional lives, allowing us to receive our next big idea.

Literature: A Lifetime’s Mentorship in Bound Pages

You don’t need an advanced degree to appreciate the power of a good book. Literature serves as an understanding of the past and a catalyst for new ideas. An example is Patrick Lencioni’s forward-thinking statement in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable: “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage.” A must-read for any sales leader, the book delves into the complexities of team dynamics. It provides a framework for building cohesive, effective teams, even in our technology-heavy world. The Five Dysfunctions is essential for leaders, managers, and anyone working as a team.

Drawing from Emerson’s vision of the American Scholar and what we’ve learned from the core of literature, there’s something special about well-read people. They’re not just full of facts and stories; they’re good at cultivating teamwork, bringing people together, and lifting our conversations as a society. This individual skillfully discerns truth from fiction, ensuring that dialogue remains in reality. A skill that appears to be in short supply these days.

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Action: Turning Ideas into Impact

An idea holds no currency if it remains dormant. This statement emphasizes the importance of acting on ideas rather than letting them go unused or picked up and implemented by someone else. Turning these big ideas into tangible results is a detailed process. It involves careful thinking, organizing, and leading. Be ready for these ideas. It may involve sitting under a tree with a good book or hiking a trail with the sounds of nature, letting ideas come to you.

The Modern Sales Leader

Sales leaders can bring their fresh ideas to life, take action, and lead their teams to success. A Modern Sales Leader’s attributes and actions can closely align with those of Emerson’s modern American Scholar.

  • Inform with Integrity: Like a scholar, after careful contemplation, breaks down complex data into understandable insights, a sales leader interprets sales metrics and market trends to inform team strategy, cutting through the noise and offering a clear path forward.
  • Challenge the Norms: Sales leaders encourage their teams to think outside the box, question established practices, and innovate—much like a scholar’s duty to rise above the popular to deliver transformational ideas.
  • Brave Leadership: A sales leader often makes tough decisions and takes calculated risks backed by experience and analysis. This courage to act mirrors the American Scholar’s fearlessness in challenging societal norms and intellectual boundaries.
  • Action: Much like the modern American Scholar, who values action as the ultimate realization of an idea, a Modern Sales Leader understands that planning must give way to execution. Strategies are only as good as actions and the results they yield.

By embodying these principles, sales leaders don’t just oversee a team; they guide, educate, and inspire, transforming their role into strategic, ethical leadership. They become the business world’s answer to the American Scholar, advancing not only the interests of their organization but also contributing positively to society and progress.

The call for new American Scholars embedded in our businesses, communities, and individual lives is timely and urgent. It’s an invitation for everyone, especially leaders in positions of influence, to cultivate a deeper understanding, act boldly, and set an example for their team.

Influential sales leaders are the anchor of any successful sales organization. A sales leader who adopts the principles of the American Scholar understands that each sale is an exchange of value and an opportunity to solve a customer’s problem. You’re responsible for directing a team and creating an environment where they can thrive. You have a duty to lift and inspire those around you, to relate the truth to the best of your ability, and to create new works and new insights for the age in which we live.

Becoming the Modern Sales Leader

Our visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright house reminded me that sometimes, finding inspiration and cutting through the clutter requires us to return to the basics and explore concepts that have endured over time. Your role as a CEO or sales manager is your platform for change and creating a lasting impact. Disrupt your status quo by embracing the three pillars of nature, literature, and action. This intellectual and ethical foundation shifts you from a manager to a thought leader who hits their numbers and elevates the company in an exceptional way.

Adopting the three pillars is a mandate for responsible leadership and action. Will you rise to the challenge?

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We transform not only how people sell, hire, and manage salespeople, but also how they build relationships with others.  Many of our clients tell us how they use the skills they have learned through our training and coaching to improve how they communicate with their family and friends, and the positive impact it has had on all their relationships.

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