Your Title Makes You a Manager, Not a Leader

“I found my success when I became who I am. And that’s hard.”

“I became comfortable with just being Kate. And that enabled me to have more candid, more deep, more real conversations with the people who were either going to hire me or were going to manage me or who I was going to work with. And I think that has made me more successful.”

Kate Lewis, chief content officer for Hearst Magazines made these comments during an interview for POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast.

I followed the script

My first job out of college was in sales at IBM. We were all sent away for one month to learn “how to sell.” We learned cost/benefit analysis, product knowledge, time management, etc. Everyday we had to get up and sell a product and be blistered with objections over pricing, quality or other “real life” struggles with a client. We memorized all the key points, comebacks, product knowledge, etc.

When we left after one month we were “prepared.”

That is, until we got into the real world and started making sales calls. We, or at least I, would robotically follow all my learnings from that month and stiffly try to get to the decision-maker. It was the ultimate cold call. Walk into an office and the first person is the receptionist who could care less about product knowledge or pricing for that matter. How were we supposed to get through that roadblock to the decision-maker? Sometimes we were lucky, but for the most part we were not.

However, I noticed that the top sales people in our offices would walk in and around the office exhibiting, not a strong knowledge base, but an aura of being just comfortable. They would get on the phone with a client and close a deal with such ease. They were winners, and had few stress filled months of meeting quota. Miraculously, they would end every month at the top of the leader board.

All of the new people were struggling like me.

My boss, who I had gotten to know outside of work, tagged along one day. We made about 6 calls for the day; no sales, no decision-makers. Just walking in trying to sell a product.

It wasn’t me

However, at the end of the day as we walked back to the office he gave me a phrase which changed my life: “Never be afraid to let your real self come out.” He knew that outside of work, I had great people skills, a way of connecting with people — low key and a relationship builder.

I realized then I was trying to be someone that I was not. Stiffly having conversations. Too much thinking of what to say next; pausing, lost int thinking what was supposed to come next. I was a mess and did not know it. I wanted to be successful, but my script was misaligned.

I thought about his comments on the way home and was determined to forgo the script and become who I was. I was going to connect to the person in front of me. Obsessively, I looked for every opportunity to connect and build the relationship. I asked the top sales people in the office to let me tag along on their calls. When I walked into a store, I would connect to the cashier or anyone who was in front of me. My daughter even would say to me when we were in a restaurant, “Can we just order the food without you getting into a big conversation with the server?”

Article Continues Below

However, I realized that I was onto something.

Now my sales calls were not a product call, but a relationship call. My thought was build the relationship and the sales will come. I became who I was in the process. Slowly my numbers stated creeping upwards. My manager was pleased. I was seen as a deal closer.

The by-product was that the stress filled box I was in became a tranquil environment.

Ditch the script and become you

In our organizations today a lot of us when we are given a title we begin using the “Managers Script” we inadvertently picked up somewhere in our growth process. Without skipping a beat, we follow it. But it’s actually the relationship script that will bring success.

I saw a quote the other day that said, “Your title makes you a manger, but your people make you a leader.”

Throw out the script and be yourself and connect. Trust me you will be a lot better off in the long run.

I will repeat Kate’s script:

“I became comfortable with just being Kate. And that enabled me to have more candid, more deep, more real conversations with the people who were either going to hire me or were going to manage me or who I was going to work with. And I think that has made me more successful.”

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.