April 2021

Salesperson Turns VP: A Leadership Story

by Ken Smith

It is not a new story; it actually happens quite often in the business world. A top sales producer is promoted to sales manager. After all, they’re so good at what they do, surely, they can get others to be good at it too. But is that really setting them up for success? Do we just assume that they have the skills to influence others? It is no wonder that so many top sales producers fail in leadership roles when they are not exposed to the fundamental skills of leadership. But the story does not need to end in failure. No, if planned correctly, the story can even produce a future Vice President of Sales. Let me introduce you to Jordan Pritt.

Jordan was the top sales producer for Gulf Controls Company (GCC), a motion control manufacturing company in Florida. The organization's leadership recognized his potential to be a leader in the company and wanted to give him that opportunity. They also recognized that Jordan needed to learn new skills and learn how to practice new behaviors. Some of the behaviors and skills he would need to adopt included:

To help close these gaps and expedite his development, GCC and its parent company, Employee Owned Holdings Inc. (EOHI), partnered with Academy Leadership and registered him for the Leadership Excellence Course in Houston, Texas. During the course, Jordan took an eye-opening journey of self-discovery while writing his own personal leadership philosophy and gained a better understanding of how to influence others by developing and exercising crucial leadership skills.

Jordan rose to the sales manager position as a result of his tenacity and deliberate sales process. His mindset and behaviors all supported his sales prowess. When he was promoted to the sales manager role, he led the same areas he demonstrated competence in, having worked the roles himself before. Now, he was teaching others the sales process and driving them for results. He gained success as a sales manager because he could utilize most of the same behaviors that made him successful as an individual contributor. However, he did recognize that not everything he did in individual sales translated well to his new leadership position.

Jordan's transition continued as he found success within the sales manager role. As a result of that success, he was promoted to Vice President of Sales. This included his existing territory, but also three new areas that he had never worked in before. One of these regions was on the opposite side of the country with new people, clients, industries and processes. This new region had been struggling for a while, and Jordan was specifically directed to increase sales. He initially thought that all he would have to do is bring his sales process and methods to the region and everything would fix itself. However, shortly after his promotion the company changed the organizational structure so that people with more experience and tenure would now report to him.

This represented a significant change in scope and expectations. He was now leading people older than him, as well as people with a more laid-back approach than Jordan used himself. His new team is much more deliberate and needs time to process and think things through. They are planners and usually come up with great plans, but are just too slow for Jordan’s comfort. Additionally, they need time to establish trust and a connection with their leader.

He quickly realized the same behaviors he used with his previous team would not help him through this new change. What did help was Jordan’s tenacity, as he used that to quickly adapt. He is a very direct and action-oriented leader who needs movement. He didn’t always see value in general conversations and only wanted to talk about what was necessary for the task.

Here is how Jordan describes it:

“In December of 2020, I learned that I would be taking on a new challenge in my career — a relocation to the opposite side of the country to run a division with a team I didn’t know; more importantly, my new team didn’t know me. The adage “a rumor grows as it goes" was in full effect before any announcement could be made. One can only imagine the conversations that happened about who I am, how I lead, and what changes I was going to make. I received a phone call from one of my new employees that said “So I hear you are relocating! What is the first thing you are going to do?” In that moment I knew it was imperative to share my Personal Leadership Philosophy with my new team - I am glad I did. Not only did the rumor mill come to an abrupt halt, the tone of the conversations shifted in a positive way. My personal leadership philosophy was a concrete document that everyone could reference — the team knew my values, knew my expectations, and knew what they could expect from me. I am confident that sharing my Personal Leadership Philosophy directly resulted in a smoother transition into my new role, as well as planted the seeds for the culture I am looking to foster.”

Once Jordan completed the course, he was armed with a new set of tools but now he needed to put them into action. Jordan had to adapt to communicate with people based on how they wanted to be communicated with and not how he preferred it. He quickly learned to spend time getting to know each person and what they valued. He learned to slow himself down and give people the time they needed while still maintaining the movement he needed. Jordan shared his Personal Leadership Philosophy with his new team to help them understand who he is and what he believes. To overcome a challenge with accountability, Jordan began using the Accountability Ladder as he listened to the stories of what was preventing the team from reaching its goals. He identified where their reasons landed and worked with each person to steadily move them up the ladder.

Jordan’s story is far from over. He has many relationships to build and many connections to make. He is adapting and realizing that what made him successful as a salesperson will not be enough in his new role as Vice President. His continued ability to see things differently and change his behaviors will serve him well as he improves his leadership effectiveness and continues to contribute to the growth and development of the organization.