08 March 2023 |

You don’t need to treat people like dogs to get the best out of them.

By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

But you don’t need to be their best friend either.

My grandmother has taught me about my roots – but my grandfather is the one who taught me about leadership in sales.

He taught me the importance of taking the success of my people personally and how to navigate company decisions I don’t agree with. One of the more surprising things my grandfather shared? How common it is for managers and leaders to purposely treat their employees poorly.

As my grandfather put it, “there are some managers out there who really believe you need to treat people like dogs to get the best out of them.”

(Me trying to figure out how how that makes sense)

I’ve had a fair share of experiences working for people who I knew, deep down, modeled the poorest of leadership and people management skills. These were the people who micro-managed, overworked, neglected or demeaned their directs. I accomplished a lot in a short amount of time working for these kinds of managers, but not without a cost to my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

In hopes of never inflicting the kind of harm and anguish these kinds of managers had on me, I went out of my way to be the nicest and most caring people manager. I checked in on my people. I knew the names of their significant others. I told them how much I appreciated them. But, in focusing on being the ‘nice manager’, I avoided giving people directive or constructive feedback. In the end, I was deemed a nice, but ineffective manager.

I knew I didn’t want to be someone who treated my people like dogs. I also knew being the ‘nice manager’ wasn’t helpful either. That’s the manager’s dilemma:  finding the balance between caring for your people and holding them to a high standard of performance. 

But, as my mentor, Kevin “KD” Dorsey would say, “holding your people to a high standard is caring for your people”. 

Here’s how to navigate it: 

Step 1: Understand your people’s expectations of you

This one is straight out of KD’s playbook and is as simple as asking your people, “Would you rather work for a manager who has high expectations of you? Or low expectations of you?”. Ask them to explain their answer.

9.99 times out of 10, people are going to say they want a manager who has high expectations of them. That .01 out of 10 is probably on their way out the door knowing they’d rather work at a company and for a manager where they can skate by.

Step 2: Understand your people’s expectations of themselves.

Ask your team, “What kind of performer do you expect yourself to be? 

  • Someone in the 80-99% range? 
  • A rockstar on the team, consistently hitting 100%? 
  • A slight  overachiever (100-120%)? 
  • In the top cohort of performers (120-140%)? 
  • Or the superstar (140%+)?”

Again, follow this question up by asking your people to explain what’s driving them to that answer.

Assist: There are times where people will choose the 80-99% range because they’re playing defense against themselves. It’s possible they’re afraid of having high hopes because they try to avoid disappointing themselves and others. They may possess the skill and the will, but lack the confidence to get themselves to 100%. This is where you as a manager can say to them “let my confidence in you compensate for any lack of confidence you have in getting to 100%”. When people see that others have faith in their abilities, they’ll start to believe in their abilities too.

Step 3: Have them paint a picture.

Ok, not literally, but ask them: “What does holding you to a high standard look like?”

Have them walk you through in detail. Each person has unique qualities and strengths. This also means you might need to show up differently for each person on your team when holding them to a high standard. 

Step 4: Double down on the details.

I’d highly recommend asking variations of the question from step #3 to dig into specifics.

“What does holding you to a high standard look like when you’re…”

  • …pacing behind on your goal(s)?
  • …on track to hit your goals?
  • …pacing ahead of your goals?
  • …successful in achieving your goals?
  • …not holding yourself to a high standard?

In asking these questions, you’ll get a better awareness of the best way to show up for your reps based on the situation. 

Step 5: Create your MAP for success.

You might be familiar with a mutual action plan, aka MAP. If not, this is an exercise where you and your prospective client map out all the things that need to happen to move a sales process towards a mutually beneficial outcome. The end result is a document to project manage a sales process.

You can use the concept of a MAP when partnering with your people. From steps 1 through 4, you’ve done the work of understanding expectations, identifying what your reps need to be held accountable, and gaining awareness of how you can show up for them along the way.

Doing this exercise with each of your reps will help your reps feel heard, seen, acknowledged and cared for. You’ll also have a playbook for how to show each rep that care and consideration in pursuit of a mutually beneficial outcome.

The result? Never having to choose between being the nice but ineffective manager or the overbearing manager. Instead, you’ll find a new way to lead – which looks a whole lot like being a partner or a coach that your reps can trust, lean on, and be empowered by.

You and your rep making the perfect team!