Building friendship together

Practical Application of Leadership in Small Groups Pt. 1


It’s a topic that is discussed often in the business world. At some point, most sales professionals are encouraged to attend a seminar, training, or discussion to learn about leadership and why it is important. I have been involved in more of these events than I care to admit. While many workshops were very informative and interesting at times, they have been incredibly alike and overly focused on the theory of leadership rather than what leaders actually do where the rubber meets the road. This lack of practical knowledge can be incredibly frustrating for people who are suddenly put into a position of leadership. They often find it uncomfortable because they are not entirely sure what to do. They know their goals, but they are unsure of how to accomplish them. Thankfully, there are some helpful guidelines to define leadership behaviors for new and aspiring leaders.

Before I share them, I would like to offer a bit of information about who I am. Before launching my sales career, I served as a United States Marine for four years. During that time, I was an M1A1 Main Battle Tank Crewman, and I ended my service at the rank of Corporal. When I was 21, I was put in charge of the lives of eight Marines and around $10 million in weapons, gear, and equipment. It was the most intimidating challenge of my life, but I received thorough training to tackle it. The Marine Corp has excellent leadership training for all ages and backgrounds that are highly applicable to the civilian world. It is based on 11 principles that help leaders find the right path and shape their own leadership style.

In most cases, new leaders do not find themselves suddenly in charge of 40 to 50 people. Most beginning leaders are responsible for a small group of four or five. Small groups are perfect for trying different techniques and even making some mistakes with a relatively low risk of serious consequences for yourself or anyone on your team. As the leader of your small group, there are two concepts you must know before applying the rest of the principles:

  1. You are a member of a team. The team always comes first, no matter what. You rise and fall together or not at all.
  2. Success belongs to the team, but failure is your responsibility. No outside circumstances or actions of others take precedence over your responsibility. This concept is difficult for new leaders to grasp.

Once leaders become comfortable with these foundational tenets, the rest comes easily. Here are the first three leadership principles:

Know yourself and seek self-improvement

Honesty is the key and chief challenge with this rule. You must be honest with yourself and explore your limitations. Deep self-reflection can be uncomfortable, but once you recognize where your weaknesses are, you can develop a plan to push past them. Asking your friends and your own leadership mentor what limitations they have seen in you can be a helpful way to begin your self-assessment. Hearing their feedback can be humbling, and it will help you in the long run. Next, develop a clear plan with goals and a timeline to help you visualize how are you going to push past those limitations to become a better person and a more effective leader. Repeat this task over the course of your lifetime. Never stop growing.

Be technically and tactically proficient

This is a simple one. As the leader, you must know how to do your job! There shouldn’t be a single thing about your profession that you don’t know. Your team and your superiors will come to you with questions first. You should continually strive for proficiency in every area where your team must excel. Honing your expertise is easier said than done, but you must cultivate important skills and knowledge to have credibility with others in your organization.

Observe leaders who you believe to be capable and learn from them. More importantly, carefully observe those who are less skilled. It is healthy to have an example of what not to do. You should strive to push your knowledge to exceed what is expected of you. Reading is key in this aspect, so find literature that will aid in professional development and ask good questions of your mentors. Ultimately, learn the position of your direct superior. Life is unpredictable and there are times where you have to rise to the occasion. Be prepared for the challenge!

Know your people and look out for their welfare

Get to know your team and see them as the individuals they are. Get to know their personalities and the ways they think. Knowing your team well will help later when you are trying to figure out who is best suited to certain tasks and who may need some supervision. Let your team know you as well. Be approachable and show them your humanity. Demonstrate your commitment to putting them in a position to succeed. Doing so will also give you insights on the thoughts and general morale of the group. Get to know their goals and aspirations, and do anything in your power to help them achieve their goals. Their success is the team’s success. Most importantly, put the welfare of your people before your own – that is what leadership is about. Putting others before you may actually be the most difficult thing about being a leader. To some, it may not come naturally. In forced moments, it is important to remember that your responsibility is to the team as a whole, not to yourself.

I hope this information has helped you so far, and I look forward to discussing three more principles in my next blog that will be published on July 12th!

Jason Gunning, Acquirent Sales Executive