There is a scene in the movie Patton where General George S. Patton is racing across Italy in an attempt to beat Montgomery to Messina. His soldiers are trying to cross a bridge, and there is donkey and cart blocking the bridge. The donkey, proving its reputation for stubbornness, refuses to move.
Patton, anxious to move forward and take Messina before Montgomery, gets out of his Jeep and walks up to see what’s preventing him and his men from reaching their objective. Upon discovering that the obstacle is a stubborn donkey, Patton pulls out his famed pearl-handled pistol and shoots the donkey. His men push the donkey and the cart over the side of the bridge, and they proceed, beating Montgomery to Messina.
Obstacle removed. Objective achieved.
Stubborn Donkeys on Your Bridge
There are obstructions that prevent your sales team from reaching their objectives. Some of these obstructions may be every bit as stubborn as a donkey. They may be obstacles that your dream client has placed on your bridge, like pricing demands, service level agreements, or stakeholders entrenched in the status quo. Or they might be obstacles that your company has placed on the bridge between the salesperson and their deal, like contract issues, people issues, or other challenges that prevent your winning or executing.
Your role as a sales leader is to shoot stubborn donkeys and clear the obstructions that stand between your team and their opportunities.
This is, in part, what it means to lead from the front. And it is an excellent metaphor for what we do in sales leadership. One of the primary ways you create value for your team and your sales organization is by removing the obstacles to a deal. Often, they need your authority and your rank to shoot the donkey and move forward.
Then there are donkeys of another color that you must remove.
You Might Be the Donkey
Sometimes the obstacle between where we are and the success we desire is our own personal, private donkey and cart. The obstacles that prevent us from succeeding are often our own beliefs, behaviors, and the actions we take (or fail to take).
A good coaching sales manager can help a salesperson to discover the obstacle standing on their bridge and can help them clear the path to success. Good coaching can help a salesperson to clearly see what’s in their way and how to remove it. That’s one of the reasons coaching is so powerful.
And if coaching is good for salespeople, it’s equally good for sales managers. As much as it hurts to acknowledge and accept it, sometimes we are the donkeys blocking passage across the bridge (although others might aptly choose to use other words in place of donkey). You can get in your own way, and you can get in the way of your salespeople.
You don’t lead your salespeople by selling for them, although there are deals that you will no doubt lead. Leading from the front means being close enough to discover the obstacles and remove them, not to do the fighting for your soldiers. If you do the selling for them, they don’t grow, and you aren’t the leader you need to be.
Find the donkey. Shoot the donkey. Remove the obstacles. Help your people achieve their objectives.
What responsibility does the sales manager have in helping to remove the barriers that prevent their team from succeeding?
What are some of the obstacles that you as a sales manager are best equipped to remove?
What are some of the personal obstructions that a good coaching manager can help a salesperson to identify and overcome?
What behaviors make the sales manager an obstacle to their team’s performance?