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  • Writer's pictureJerry Phillips

Listening with empathy and building trust!

Most of us over 25 years old remember where we were on September 11, 2001. I was a Regional Manager for Grainger at the time, based in St. Louis, MO. My boss, my peers and I were in a meeting with the DeWalt team that worked with Grainger, in their training headquarters in Towson, MD. It was a challenging time for everyone, but it was helped a great deal by how the leadership team at Grainger handled the situation with our teams. First, they made sure every employee was okay. Then they looked beyond our immediate teams to their families. They gave us all time to get our minds wrapped around what just happened, and they gave us time to grieve and heal. We still needed to do business, but it was not going to happen in the state of shock we all were in. Grainger immediately went to work, providing for the rescue workers. It’s the kind of company they are. But not all companies followed that model.

Marc Foerster was in sales for a division of a large US company. He and his teammates were charged with opening the Brazilian market for their products. Marc had been traveling for weeks at a time, working in market. There had been great personal sacrifice to do what they had been goaled to do, but the attack on the US hurt the market globally. On October 1, 2011, the Vice President of his division turned a chat with the team of 20 of Marc’s peers into a personal attack on the progress in Brazil, despite the effort the team had put forth.

The VP did not trust the team, and in return, the team did not trust the VP. There was no discovery, no empathy, and therefore, you could argue, there was poor judgment. The perception of Marc and the team was that their leader was not concerned with the good of the team, but only the benefit for himself. He wanted to be promoted, and berating the team for lack of performance was, in his judgment, the way to show he was tough on results.

Marc shared that he asked for a sidebar meeting and shared his thoughts with the individual as he stood up for the team. He also shared that he was either fired, or resigned on the spot. Perhaps both. People don’t quit companies, they quit their boss.

Today, Marc is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Crystal Flash Energy, in Grand Rapids Michigan. He is a high-energy Business Executive with extensive hands on exposure to each functional management area. His experience ranges from Production Management, Business Unit Management, Sales Management, to Business Development. He has learned from his experience the type of leader he intends to be, and his style has been successful.

Marc has learned to share the “why” or the intent when setting expectations. He shared the story that his staff was evaluating a marketing automation tool that he felt was a good fit for their needs. He shared his thoughts with his team, and explained why he felt it was a good fit. But he also encouraged them to do the research and evaluate it themselves. He pushed his idea hard, but his team came back to him and told him it was too large of an investment. Their research showed that the total cost of the offering was 2.5 times the original cost to have it perform as they needed it to. They convinced him to purchase a different product. He tasked them, then listened to them. He has a talented team that he trusts. They trusted him to listen to them and make a judgment, based on their research. Marc used skillful judgment in that he suspended his initial thoughts and utilized the discovery work his team had done.

Marc has learned from mistakes. Some were his mistakes, and some were mistakes of others. He never gets too excited or to agitated. He is comfortable gathering the data to make skillful decisions. Tough experiences early in his career has helped Marc become a strong leader now. Just ask his team.

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