Starting with 'Should'

Ask a hundred sales managers how they'd like to see their teams change and grow and at least seventy will say "I want them to be more strategic." But strategic is one of those words that sounds meaningful but lacks real definition: like transparent, sustainable or integrated, it rolls off the tongue but often means less to the listener than the speaker intends. And while they instinctively want sellers to act more strategically, well-meaning managers often end up enabling the kind of short-term, tactical, task-driven behavior they abhor.

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A dozen times a day, sellers and other team members bring messy problems and situations to the manager's office, expecting to exchange them for tidy solutions. The harried manager finds it most expedient to simply make that exchange; it's faster to just tell the seller what to do. And then it happens again...and again...and again. The result is a culture of tactical dependency and disempowered, less-than-confident sellers. But it doesn't have to be that way. The difference can come down to one little word: should.

Effective managers run a different play. At the point when a team member brings them a problem or issue, they slow things down and ask a question: "What do you think we should do in this situation?" And then a second one: "If that ends up not being possible, what else do you think we should consider?" Should is a powerful word. It's an invitation to the dormant strategist and a challenge to the lazy thinker. Should tells the employee, 'don't bring a problem in here without also having at least considered a possible solution. Better yet, bring two potential answers.'

Sellers and team members become addicted to the easy answers we toss back to them every day. So stop answering questions with facts and directions and start answering them - at least initially - with questions of your own. And make sure those questions include the word should. Be disciplined with your own behavior and you'll be amazed how fast the behavior and thinking of your team transforms.