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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Listening


If you’re in sales, you know that it’s difficult to pull in a new client or buyer. Whether you’re in retail or insurance, it isn’t always easy to convince a potential customer to pull the trigger and make the purchase. This fear of rejection is probably the thing that’s holding you back from ONE easy thing that will increase your sales exponentially: upselling.

Upselling might sound like an ugly word (you might think of a car salesperson saying “But for only $40 more each month, we’ll throw in a…”), but there is a way to do it tactfully and honestly. Upselling involves introducing an improvement or an upgrade. You might upgrade to a faster laptop, a more powerful fishing boat motor, or a more durable set of kitchen knives.

I certainly don’t advocate selling a customer something that they genuinely don’t need. When you upsell (or cross-sell, which involves introducing a relevant but different product), do it with the customer’s needs at the center of your mind.

Why upsell? For one, upselling works 20 times better than cross-selling. Once potential buyers are fixated on a product, they don’t really want to be distracted by something else.

Secondly, your customer might not be aware of the benefits of upgrading to a different model. They might not realize, for instance, that a kitchen pan that’s $10 more than the one they are currently considering is known to last three times as long and tends to cook food more evenly.

Third, if your customer is already interested in a product, it doesn’t hurt to introduce them to a better model (again, if you genuinely think they would benefit from it). You’re already making the sale, why not make a better sale?

So, how can you tactfully and honestly incorporate upselling in your sales game? Try these five tips:

1. Arm yourself with knowledge.

If a customer is interested in a certain type of camera, for instance, be prepared to tell them about their full range of options and why the next model up is better. Anticipate questions and be prepared with candid answers.

2. Listen.

Be sure to listen carefully to your customer’s needs before trying to upsell. It could be that a bigger, better product is not necessary for this particular person.

3. Make it easy.

If you’re in a retail setting, make sure the best products are prominently visible on the sales floor and easy to access for a demonstration. Customers should be able to easily tell the difference between a base model and the souped-up version.

4. Honesty is key.

Don’t fudge the facts. Don’t push a sale that won’t benefit the customer. Your potential buyers are usually savvy enough to see through an act and, if they’re not, they will wise up quickly once they realize that the product you sold them doesn’t fit their needs at all. Do you think they’ll send any friends or family members to you after that?

5. Be confident.

Upsell with confidence. You should be proud of the products you sell and stand by their worth. Let that confidence shine! (And if you’re not confident about the products you’re selling, it may be time to start hunting for another sales position!)


Try incorporating upselling into your sales strategy and see where it will take you. It’s the easiest way to increase your sales and demonstrate the full range of product opportunities to your customers. What’s holding you back?

For more in-depth sales advice and career counseling, please get in touch with Margaret today.


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Ever witnessed a child being told they must share their toys with another child? Their reaction to this news wasn’t too pretty, was it?

Although we’ve grown to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we don’t always get our way, that small child’s voice is still inside us, protesting whenever things don’t go how we want them to.

But the truth is, in order to lead in any real sense of the word, you must learn the art of making compromises. It’s easy to say that, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but how do you actually do it?

1. Express yourself fully, and listen intently. Explain your reasoning behind your viewpoint. Often our views are skewed by our emotions, which make it harder to make effective decisions. Articulating your view to another person forces you to take a good long look at your position, and in many cases this allows you to see where your view may not be perfect. By the same token, listen to what the other person is actually saying, not what you think they’re saying. Hear them out before you rush to judgment. Open communication is crucial to getting things done.

2. Think from the other person’s perspective. If it continues to be difficult for you to accept the other person’s position, do your best to put yourself in their shoes. What’s the reasoning behind their thoughts, ideas, and opinions? Even if you disagree, can you see why they hold these views?

3. Be committed to results. Compromising pushes two opposing viewpoints past a gridlock into a region where they can move from ideas into actions. In this way, compromise is one of the most powerful tools we have to getting results. A compromise is a mature way of acknowledging that we can never fully get what we want all of the time, but we can get more of what we want if we work together to achieve it.

4. Be prepared to be disappointed, but give it time. At first, you’ll only see what you didn’t get out of a compromise. This is understandable, but don’t give up on it just yet. In the longterm, compromising pays off for both parties, as you’ve established an alliance and proven to one another that you are capable of working together and taking steps forward.

Have a great week!

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Brainstorming_Young_iStock_4653977XSmallOne of my favorite parts of business is brainstorming. I love getting all my people in a room together and letting them unleash their ideas and opinions. The energy level in these types of meetings is usually sky high, as laughter and enthusiasm for upcoming projects abound.

I’ve had a lot of experience conducting successful brainstorm sessions, but there was a time when I wondered whether these types of meetings were useful. After all, how often do they result in off topic digressions, scattered tidbits and unorganized, unfocused planning? A bit too much, if truth be told.

I had to learn that as the person guiding the brainstorming, it was my responsibility to keep the ideas pushing forward toward the end objective. To do that, I developed a few techniques:

1. First and foremost, keep the atmosphere light and low-pressure. Your team is with you for a reason. You trust their ability and their input. However, there are always those of us who are less eager to speak up. To get the ball rolling, make it clear that the brainstorm is a safe place to get creative without fear of judgement.

2. Lay out the objectives of the meeting beforehand. Giving your team time to think things through on their own before the meeting will help keep them focused and realistic. While improvisation and wild ideas are part of the fun of any brainstorm session, specifying clear objectives up front will enhance the meeting’s productivity.

3. Provide a visual map of the meeting as you go. I like using big sheets of paper and a box of colored markers. Friends of mine swear by a good old white board, while still others have gone digital and taken notes with a laptop and a projector. It doesn’t matter what medium you use, but I highly recommend guiding the meeting visually to keep the team from being bored, confused or disengaged.

4. Ask specific questions of each of your team members. Show them that they are valued by tailoring questions to their skill sets and asking their opinions.

5. delegate the work once a solution is reached, and email the notes you took for the team to go back to for reference.

Good luck, and have fun!

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Hands Passing Baton

When done properly, delegation is a win-win. You end up saving time, and the person you’ve passed work onto feels valued for their unique skills. Why is it, then, that more people swamped with work don’t delegate?

Because Delegation Takes Up-Front Work

Many leaders find that it takes them more time and effort just to bring others up to speed, when what they’re trying to do is lessen their workload. Why delegate if it ends up being more work in the first place?

It’s true that you’ll need to work harder and longer when you’re preparing to delegate tasks. There will be meetings, training, negotiations, and the inevitable hiccup. But if you take the necessary time to delegate in a meaningful way, you’ll end up saving far more time and energy in the long run.

How do you do this?

Know Your Team

This is where it comes in handy to know the people who you work alongside better than just knowing their name or where they went to school. When you’re familiar with their interests, passions, and experiences, you’ll find delegation much easier. You won’t be guessing, fingers crossed, that George can take care of the task you’re passing off. You’ll be confident that he can, because you know George, and man is George competent.

What’s more, knowing your team will let you sleep better at night. Just as every mother must let their children go off into the real world at some point, so too will you need to let go of the desire to obsess over the tasks you’ve passed on to others. They’ll appreciate that you trust them enough to leave it in their hands, and you’ll be able to focus on other things.

Plan Well

If you’re delegating to a group of people, you’ll need to hold a meeting or two beforehand to help build unity within the group. They’ll go off and tackle bits of the greater project, sure, but it helps them to know how their contribution functions within the whole. It also helps you stay mentally organized as you’re the one keeping track of all the loose ends.

Which leads to…

Check In

While you should trust your team to perform well, it isn’t micromanaging to do frequent check-ins on status. Keep it friendly, and be open to their feedback. They often have great ideas to contribute and they’ll feel appreciated when you take their ideas seriously.

If you’re worried that it may be too hard to ensure that your standards are being implemented by those you’ve delegated work to, fear not, but be sure to…

Have Clear Deadlines, Goals and Expectations From The Get Go

And be specific about them. It’s better to over-prepare in the beginning and be able to ease off as your team gets up to speed than it is to go into a project unorganized and be forced to pull people off projects.

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Image via Maurice Kerrigan

With school back in session, you’ve probably seen kids with backpacks and lunchboxes waiting for the bus, or noticed the huge “back to school” section at your local Target, or maybe you’ve been one of those brave souls frantically rushing your kids out the door each morning. Whatever it may be, it’s likely September has reminded you of your own time in school, be it grade school, high school, or college, wherein your sole job was to learn.

It’s easy to slip into the mindset that that was then, this is now. We had school for learning, now it’s time for applying that knowledge in the real world. While this is true, adhering too strongly to such thinking can actually hinder your ability to excel. Because the world is continuously changing, we must embrace a mentality of continuous learning, and the way we pull that off is by keeping an open mind.

I know, “keeping an open mind” is about as cliché as it gets. It’s a phrase that can mean a whole heap of things and rarely gets questioned. So what do I mean when I say we must keep an open mind?

1. Put flexibility into practice. Be willing to change plans on the fly. Try out other people’s ideas. Don’t assume you know the answer right away.

2. Self-assessment is key. Are listening to others? Have you applied what you’ve most recently learned in any meaningful way?

3. There is no perfect way to do things. Strategies and methods need to be adapted to each new situation. The best learners use their environments to come up with a concoction of many different methods, tailored to the situation at hand.

4. Change is the only constant. And this is okay. Too often we wage a losing battle trying to control everything around us. You don’t need to fight that battle.

Don’t get entrenched in a one size fits all approach. You’ll only become frustrated. Be willing to listen, experiment and place yourself in the firing line of new experiences.

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bad leadershipLeaders often burden themselves with being the only ones to make tough decisions and stick with them, even when they may not be popular with everyone on the team. There are times when you as leader must make this type of call and deal with a bit of unpopularity for a while.

But there are other instances–the majority, in fact–where leaders tend to take on too much when it comes to making tough or controversial decisions. They feel, rightly so, that because they’re the ones who must take ultimate responsibility within their organization, they also must personally decide, execute and maintain new systems or standards.

While it’s true “the buck stops here” when it comes to leadership responsibilities, we must remember that those we work with and manage have loads of helpful ideas we might otherwise not have thought of ourselves. We must also remember that our coworkers and/or employees are capable and eager to do a good job (and if they aren’t, then you have a problem with your hiring strategies).

With this in mind, we should take advantage of our teams when it comes to making, implementing and maintaining decisions.

Moderate The Decision-making Process, Don’t Make All The Decisions

As a leader, you should work to get your team involved in the process of making key decisions. Your role should be to moderate the group, keeping the discussion focused and realistic, and also to help peers work things out should disagreements arise.

Workers who are involved with decision-making feel more engaged and connected to their work, getting a sense of ownership for the visions the team has come up with together. This inevitably leads to better performance across the board, because ownership and meaning behind one’s work always gives them that necessary fire to push toward excellence.

Leading As The Vision-Implementer, Not The Productivity Police

If a team feels they are being micro-managed, they tend to become distant from their work. That is to say, a babysat team can easily be made to feel that they are not smart or capable enough to do their own work.

On the other hand, we all need standards in place to keep us all on the same page. A great team is well-organized, highly communicative and grounded in a mutual understanding of the standards and expectations.

You can see why involving everyone in big decisions can help you as the leader in the long run, when you need to begin implementing the vision (aka, the daily expectations of each team member). If and when you run up against disagreements or unproductivity, you can always point back to the standards the whole team came up with. You aren’t the dictator, you’re the one tasked with making sure everyone fulfills the requirements they set for themselves.

Maintaining The Vision

Things don’t always apply perfectly from the white board to real life. And, since the business world constantly changes along with the rest of the world, it’s necessary to constantly reevaluate the value of decisions you’ve made and implemented in the past. This means you’ll need to tweak things as you go and ask for feedback from the team, thereby keeping everyone directly engaged in the process.

This, my friends, is the recipe for good leadership, and for a functional, happy team.

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Reaching for Star

For the month of July, I’ve been focusing on learning agility. Last week’s post introduced the concept and gave a brief overview. This week, I’ll go into more detail as to how learning agility applies to your day-to-day leadership skills.

According to The Center for Creative Leadership, a research group out of the Teacher’s College at Columbia University, learning agility can be demonstrated in four attributes: Innovating, Performing, Reflecting and Risking.


This refers to challenging the status quo. Instead of going along with what’s worked in the past, an innovative leader embraces new challenges and is open to new ideas. An innovator asks questions, takes on new tasks and experiences to increase their perspective, and constantly tries to approach issues from multiple angles.


To possess learning agility, you must be able to perform under  stress and deal with the inevitable ambiguous or unfamiliar situation as it arises. An agile learner does this by staying present, engaged and a keen observer of new information. This includes listening skills; a good performer must embrace, not avoid, verbal instruction.


This goes beyond simply thinking about the new things you’ve learned. Reflecting means using new information, skills and experiences to generate a deeper insight into yourself, those around you and any problems you’ll face. Good reflection should always ask the question, “What kinds of changes do need to make in order to  accommodate  these new experiences?”


Learning agility is a body of skills and attributes that can be boiled down to one character trait: the ability to put yourself out there. This means that you volunteer for opportunities that don’t guarantee success. In fact, an agile learner values the experience of failure, as it is a much better catalyst for growth than continual success. Risk here means risk that leads to opportunity, not thrill seeking.

If these attributes don’t describe the way you operate, don’t panic. “Being open to failure” isn’t natural, fun or frankly, very common. Don’t think of these traits as a list of must-do’s in order to be successful. To put it in perspective, these are the conclusions derived from studying a large and diverse group of leaders; no one leader perfectly reflects all these qualities.

That said, staying humble and open to change is the most important starting point to attaining agility in leadership and learning. If you can do that, the rest will follow.

Mitchinson, Adam and Robert Morris, Ph.d. “Learning About Learning Agility.” Teachers College, Colombia University, April 2012.

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