Leadership 101: 3 Keys to Leading Effective Teams

I was standing in a packed auditorium ready to introduce the results of our latest study, what behaviors to great business leaders share.  The entire study was done to find out what top tier leaders actually do. More specifically, I wanted to know the behaviors that they all shared and attributed to their success.  As I introduced the topic I could hear 300 people, almost simultaneously roll their eyes.  I get it.  Not another talk about leadership.  “But why the skepticism?” I ask myself as cellphones are drawn at gunslinger speed.


In 2017 there were over 1,500 books published with leadership in their title.  That’s about four books a day!  Now, add those books to over 25,000 white papers with leadership in the title and you can start to feel the subject saturation.


So, what’s with our fascination with what makes for a good leader.  Is it that we all have a deep desire to lead?  Is it we just want to know what to look for so we know who to follow?  Maybe.  The real reason is that leadership is a SUBJECTIVE topic.  Its study has a personal perspective tied to it and that perspective show’s itself in myriad different ways.  Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa are both leaders, but radically different in their styles, whereas Joan of Arc and Steven Jobs are surprisingly similar.  Couple the various individual observations with the constant evolution of what it means to lead and you have one of the most popular topics in history.  Hello, collective eye roll!




When I started on my leadership study, I simply wanted to know what these leaders were actually doing, not what they thought, not even their beliefs, but what were their actions, most importantly their repeated and shared actions.  I had a successful methodology, one that resulted In my best-selling book – THE 21 SECRETS OF MILLION DOLLAR SELLERS. So, I created 10 open-ended questions, identified nine different industries and interviewed over 300 business leaders.  The whole thing took two years.  I identified 11 shared leadership power behaviors,  11 behaviors that all 300 shared.  Interested in working on your leadership skills?  Here are three that will continue on a growth trajectory.





When we hear this term we often think “science”.  In science, a hypothesis, an idea is tested by experimenting and trying things to see if your idea is right or wrong.  Leaders swear by this action.  They test their ideas.  If you are office furniture giant Herman Miller, you build multiple examples of your latest chair.  If you are Chili’s, you serve new menu ideas in your test kitchen and you host focus groups and test scenarios.  As a leader, you EXPERIMENT.  Ideas are fragile things and need care and tending to before they become real.





It’s amazing how many people think that more is better.  It’s practically an American mantra.  At the Wayback Burger chain (95 US locations with 75 more in the works) you can get their Triple Triple Burger, a mammoth stack of meat, cheese and other stuff that will set you back about 1,800 calories.  You can get a hot tub full of Dr. Pepper to go along with a truckload of popcorn at the movies.  Leaders, good leaders, limit their commitments to those that create critical impact.  They say NO, a lot!  They become expert filters of their companies ideas and learn when and where to limit their YES’S.  You can do anything you want, you simply can’t do everything!





A core tenant of leadership is the ability to actually get something done, your ability to accomplish something.   The generation of good ideas is no small feat, but the aptitude to see that the right ideas lead to action is a very impactful behavior of leaders.  Leaders are all about execution.  They design specific strategies around adeptness and capacity and create a unique focus on seeing something completed.  They have processes in place to make objectives become tangible.  Their decision procedures are in place to accomplish things.

I often work with companies that feel they need to move on to the next shiny thing before the last one is even close to getting done.  Wayne is a great leader.  He sat in a strategic planning meeting and presented his three goals (yep, three).  One of them was a carryover from the previous year and the team asked, “Why is that on the list?”  The team was used to committing to new goals every year, which was something I encountered several times in the study. Wayne’s response, his LEADERSHIP response was, “This was a key goal last year and we didn’t get it done.  It still has the same level of importance as when we committed to it and it needs to be FINISHED.”



One Level Above: How Showing Gratitude the Right Way Drives Growth


The organizations we work with come to us all the time to discuss new strategies that they can adopt to take their businesses to the next level. Sometimes, these conversations revolve around high-level organizational change. These are great conversations where we take deep dives into discovering the value of what they are currently doing, opportunities that may exist, analyzing what their competitors are doing, and so on and so forth. And despite their enthusiasm for change, they often don’t like our first and most important rule for implementing change strategies, which is to only focus on one thing at a time. This is hard for most people. When you have the resources that some of our clients have the idea of needing to do more, provide more, and change more is persistent. But, successful organizational change doesn’t happen that way. Strategic changes happen one level at a time.


The Problem

When we work with companies to focus on instituting behavioral change the conversation often goes the same way. Sales managers want to change multiple behaviors at the same time. And, again, change doesn’t work this way. Our goal is to work through a discovery phase with our clients to identify problem areas. What are they doing now that works? What are they doing that doesn’t work? Where are the opportunities to have the highest impact with the least amount of complexity? The solutions to these questions manifest themselves in a number of different ways and at the end of a discovery session we’re left with a long list of “actionable items”. We’re then left to choose which strategy or solution to pursue. Then we’ll have the conversation. “We can only commit to one,” we’ll say. And they always look at the list and say, “what about all of the others?” “The others represent opportunities to pursue after the implementation and successful execution of one idea. Once you’ve had success with one, you can use the experience as a rough blueprint to attack the others.” Our goal is not to take your company from level 1 to level 10, our goal is to slowly and successfully take you from level 1 to 2 to 3 and so on. We just need to go one level above where you are and what you’re currently doing.



Large scale change is appealing. In our minds, there is always one gigantic strategy out there that we think if we adopt will change our business and have us swimming in money in no time. The reality is that the most impactful changes you can make are on a much smaller scale and can be implemented by everyone in your organization. The tricky part is finding a simple solution, just one, and being disciplined in its pursuit. That’s right, the real secret behind these strategies is the dreaded “A” word, accountability. Finding the right strategy to focus on is a daunting task. After all, each business we work with is unique and requires high levels of understanding to customize specific strategies that will impact their bottom line. Some strategies, however, work for every business. If you’re looking to dip your toe in One Level Above strategies, we’ve got you covered. 


A Simple Strategy

One of the best strategies you can implement is simple, costs almost nothing, can be adopted by everyone at every level of your organization, and has a massive impact on the relationships you develop with your clients. I’m talking about GRATITUDE. Pushing behavioral change towards graciousness seems obvious, yet day in and day out we deal with companies that don’t put it into practice. Nothing in business is guaranteed and you should be grateful for every opportunity that comes across your desk. There are any number of strategies you can try out to demonstrate your gratitude to your clients. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone call, a face to face meeting, or a sale, you should have various ways you show that you’re thankful for your clients time and consideration.


Try This

At Creative Ventures, we have a few. We send various thank you gifts to people that work with us on projects that include food, swag, music, and experiences depending on what we learn about each contact. But getting to know each contact on a personal level to deliver a custom tailored thank you is time consuming, difficult, and doesn’t work for everyone. My favorite strategy and the one that works for everyone and every company is ridiculously simple, thank you cards. I’m not saying a thank you email, a thank you text, or a thank you phone call. What I’m referring to is the good old fashioned handwritten note.



Here’s why it’s great. Like me, you no doubt receive a dozen or so pieces of mail a day. Almost all of them have nice little plastic windows on them and no sense of personalization. But, when you go to your mailbox and find a letter that doesn’t fit the “you qualify for a new credit card,” mold your interest is peaked. You open it and find a thoughtful handwritten note saying thank you and nothing else. This means that whoever you spoke to took the time to get out a card, write a note, address it, put a stamp on it, and take it to the mailbox just to say thank you. They’ve given them a piece of their most valuable currency, their time.



All of a sudden you have an emotional connection to your client. You’re no longer a voice on the other end of the line or that guy that was pushing that new software. You’re a person who appreciates other people and follows through on each interaction. I have a stack of thank you cards right next to my phone. We send a few out every week without fail and the results we see are significant. Sometimes it’s a big result like a new deal, and sometimes nothing happens. (By the way, when nothing happens, it’s a good sign. It typically means that we may not be a good fit to work together.) But one thing that has been consistent since we implemented this strategy is that when we call, our clients and partners answer. This strategy took our business one level above where we were.


It wasn’t easy to create consistency in our approach to this strategy. It took a few months to make sure we had systems and relationships in place to make sure we didn’t let any opportunities to show gratitude fall through the cracks. But, once we demonstrated that it was a repeatable systemic process in our sales cycle, we were able to focus on another strategy. The trick is to always only focus on moving the needle one level at a time. If you follow this process, you won’t need to agonize about how to find the secret to transform your business tomorrow because you will have been operating in a constant state of improvement, which in and of itself, is transformational.

The Role of Email in Your Sales Cycle


OK, let’s start with this truth – there is no avoiding email.  In our electronic age, email is as real as gravity and despite the impact of text mail and instant messaging, in the sales cycle, email is still king.

There are about 124 billion emails sent each day and an executive can expect to get 150 – 250 every single day.  So, if you love email as part of your sales process, you might want to re-think about its overall impact. It’s just part of the communication map and it’s up to you where to place it in the journey of your sales activity.



How to Get the Most Out of Your Emails


When we started talking about communications and building relationships with million dollar sales professionals we heard about how they think about every form of communication they use, including email.  Their answers, behaviors, and perspectives about communicating formed Secret # 9 – SELL SMART. Here are some things that could help you, a link to a podcast we did on the subject, and some helpful statistics for you to take a peek at. 




Pinnacle sales performers know the value of the “beginning” of building a relationship.  They set the table when the sales process/relationship building starts. The key question is; tell me how you like to communicate? Let the client open the door for your sales communication strategy.  If the answer is email, a million dollar producer might ask; you must receive hundreds of emails a day, is there anything I can do to gain your attention?  Can I add something to the subject line?  Let the client help design the communication approach.



In a well-laid plan, every piece has its place. Email fits that description. Email has its place. Think like a million dollar seller; what is the goal of this communication? What is the desired outcome?  Is it a “please do this” or an “ask” for something communique? Think of it as strong and weak actions.  Strong actions probably are best served in person or on the phone, but a weak push, like sending support material can be best served by an email.  Sales professionals THINK, they PLAN and choose the right communication tool to serve the object of the interaction.



A good sales process is about energy and momentum.  Each part of a sale process generates a form of force.  Force can change momentum. It can affect the magnitude and direction of the action.   Email can play a key role in the level of energy you find the relationship developing. Email is a great tool for touching base, checking on an action item or just following up during the sales cycle.  It’s low on the energy scale and can, at times, carry momentum, but it’s really hard for an email to generate momentum. So place your use of email in-line with the momentum of the sale’s progression. Here is a simple rule –  three unanswered emails, pick up the phone or get in the car.


The key is not to allow yourself to simply default to an email and consider it a full next step in procuring a sale. An email is simply a communication tool. Million dollar producers have a lot of tools in their toolbox and you won’t find them looking for the easy way through a sale!

Dealing with Objections and the Parade of “No’s”


Every great sales person knows this – there is space between cause and effect, between the starting of a sale and the closing of a sale. In essence, this is why it’s called a “sales process.” This is about getting to YES and that space between cause and effect is often separated by a parade of NO’S.

The idea of facing buyer objections is as integrated into any sale and is as common to the profession as the morning coffee. Great producers are all over the idea of NO.


Secret #14: Embrace the Dark Side


EMBRACE THE DARK SIDE is all about the attitude and behaviors surrounding this core aspect of the sales profession – objections and how top professionals embrace it.

Here is the interesting part, sales people know the types of objections they will face are well ahead of trying to make the sale. Most receive specific training around them.  It’s not a secret or some type of unexpected detour designed to throw you off your game. These are known elements in the sales process and great sales people focus on known elements.


The Big 3


  • Price: Every pro is ready for this. It’s the start of the classic haggle process. Great sales pros don’t fight their battles here. It’s a losing game. They shift the conversation to defining the objection around value. Here is what makes them million dollar producers; they are subtle about this shift. They LISTEN, before they move the conversation to value. When positioned with the right knowledge, value will win over price. 
  • Complacency:  This is the shoulder shrug. Great producers in the book could see this coming from a mile away. The potential buyer likes the way things are. This is about their current reality. Million dollar producers love using a buyers’ current reality. It allows them to paint a picture of a different future, a future where their product or service will create an impact. Establishing a current reality provides a shared starting point between buyer and seller. It is an opportunity to tell stories of other successes and gives them something REAL to build a sales story around.
  • Fear of Change:  This is a tightly held rope often connected to complacency. It is what the buyer’s shoulders have to bear, accountability for the purchase. It’s the responsibility for rocking the boat and the potential for blame. It’s fear of making the wrong choice. A pinnacle sales performer loves the fear of change. The buyer thinks of themselves as all alone, as an island of possible fault. A million dollar seller immediately creates the shared burden of the deal. Many sales people in the study called this their – “we are in this together” moment. This shared moment forms the foundation of what will become a relationship. The sales person becomes a partner!




If NO is the worst thing you can hear and it stops you in your sales tracks, remember that NO creates strategies for a million dollar sellers. It’s not a stop sign but an opportunity to prove their worth, create a relationship, and gather critical data that can be applied to future objections.

Secret # 14, EMBRACE THE DARK SIDE, is about the power that million dollar sellers have discovered in the leverage of NO.