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Part Two: New Sales Leader Overestimates His Political Capital

Coming into a new sales organization Mason as a sales leader has political capital. Political capital is defined as the trust, goodwill, and influence you have with organizations, teams, and individuals. It is also connected to the amount of "unbudgeted" spend you have. In layman's terms, your "pull."

Mason wanting to grow the sales organization, decides he wants to hire a new salesperson. He sends out an email to Richard the CEO, who happens to be on vacation that week, with a "hypothetical hire" idea to see what the CEO would say. The CEO never responds.

He checks with Mila in HR about hiring procedures. She asked him if he spoke to Richard about this. He said I emailed him. She then describes in detail their selection process. She explains the job profiles and how thorough they need to be to yield the best candidates. With Mila's approval, Mason feels even more assertive about getting a great new salesperson to shake things up a little bit.

He is immediately thinking about Fred. Fred was a guy he hired several years ago, who moved on, but he heard through the grapevine that Fred was looking for work due to COVID cuts. Fred would be perfect, would fit the job profile, and everyone would love him.

The day before Fred starts, Richard, calls Mason into his office. Richard has no smile on his face, his brow creased downward, his jaw tight, his hands folded in front of him.

"Have a seat Mason." Richard gestured to the two chairs in front of his desk. "What is this about a new hire?"

"I hired a new salesperson to join our team. I was going over our sales capacity, and we needed an additional body to help reach our goal for the end of the year. Plus, I know Fred he's solid, and he's bringing his contacts."

"Why didn't I hear about any of this?" Richard asked.

"I sent you an email last month on the idea."

"Idea, yes. Actual written plan no."

"I assumed it was fine since you didn't reply back with a no. I did all the hiring back at my old company, and I talked to Mila about it." Mason shrugged.

"That's not how we do things around here." Scolds Richard.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, any hiring decisions go through me."

"Sir, with all due respect, you never told me that," Mason says calmly.

"Well, you shouldn't go around assuming you have the authority to hire people, and you really upset two of your salespeople when they heard of the interviews. They feel like you’re taking their opportunities away from them on this new hire," Richard says matter-of-factly.

"You're right. I am sorry," Mason admits.

After the disagreement between Mason and Richard, Mason was spinning from the conversation. He tried to wrap his head around what went wrong. Mason decided to seek advice from Roy, a friend and former sales leader.

As Mason was talking to Roy, it was pointed out that Mason did not get a "concrete yes" from the CEO about the new hire and that Mason didn't get input from all organization levels. Roy explained that the culture of any organization is vital in making these types of decisions. Understanding the long-lasting relationships, how decisions are made, the keepers of secrets, you know the Workplace Culture or Political Landscape.

Every organization has some form of office politics. Every new leader is given a certain amount of political capital when they are hired. It's too bad, but this is rarely defined in smaller businesses. Unless when you onboarded, you went through a detailed ASK – DO – TELL Authority checklist.  Self-aware leaders understand it's best to earn your political capital in every organization before you should invest or spend.

Roy said he learned long ago from an old railroad executive friend about how to best communicate with your team. Such as, you only communicate via voice or in-person. Text and email are to share data only, not to make decisions. Do not confuse the two, or you'll destroy your political capital before the train leaves the station.

Workplace culture is what makes your business unique and is the sum of its values and traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes. It's usually made up of several things like the company's core values or their guiding principles.

After talking with Roy, Mason realized one way to waste your political capital is to assume you know the culture instead of taking the time to learn it. They came up with a list of other ways to lose political capital:

  • Purposefully misunderstanding feedback (Take the input as personal vs. constructive)
  • Communicating poorly (More telling vs. listening and only communicating with the higher-ups)
  • Keeping ideas confidential (Not openly share ideas in fear of rejection)
  • Not getting buy-in (Not doing the leg work to fully engage with others to get their feedback)
  • Overestimating authority levels (Assuming the title carries more weight than it does)

Mason leaves the call with a stomachache from the gut-punch, realizing he blew by all these cues.  He gained a list of things not to do again, but wonders how he could gain some of his influence and political capital back?

Next Week – Part Three: How will Mason earn his political capital back?

Pivotal Moments:

If you read this blog and thought to yourself, I’ve been faced with some of these (Pivotal Moments) situations and handled them differently for better or worse. We would love to hear from you. Sales Leadership can be a lonely trail at times. I’m here to tell you, it’s not as lonely as you once thought. Let’s connect. The power is in the collective wisdom. I’d love to hear your story.

About Steve Hoeft

Steve is a Partner, VP Client Services at Pivotal Advisors. Leadership has been forefront in his career for over 20 years. He has also been a Vice President of Sales for a number of companies in Minnesota. Steve has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Sales Leaders Roundtable, Trust Vets, Marine Corps Events and more. If you want to find out more about Steve check out his profile here.
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