By Craig J. Davidson, CEBS

February 1, 2012

What is the difference between a manager and a leader? According to Warren Bennis, founder of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, “Managers do things right, but leaders do the right thing.” A world of difference exists between these two individuals. Which camp do you fall into? Most people have some management acumen, but a minority has the stuff it takes to be a great leader.

Some leadership thinkers believe that leaders are born. They would say you either have it or you don’t. These are the trait leadership theorists. Others believe that we can make anyone into a leader with the right education, training and occasional kick in the pants when one fails. We all fail sometimes. We all succeed sometimes. These are behavioral theorists. Whichever theory you subscribe to, I am here to tell you that you need to develop your leadership skills. This will be a good thing for you and your career.

We will devote the rest of this column to the important subject of leadership: Do you have it?

Being a leader in business requires that you have followers. Why would someone follow you? That is a question with a number of potential answers. Most of the answers revolve around leadership style, the way you act with subordinates and other potential followers.

My experience in leadership tells me that only two types of leaders exist – transactional and transformational. The former lead by rewarding followers when they do something that the leader likes, hence the transaction. Transactional leaders are functional and mind the store, but do not inspire followers to greatness. Transformational leaders have a whole different set of traits than transactional leaders. These traits include the following:

Idealized influence

Idealized influence is the notion that your leader has a relationship with you that you consider close to ideal and as a result you are willing to be influenced by the leader. Does your sales manager have this type of relationship with you? Sales managers, do you have idealized influence over your reports? Idealized influence is a key factor of sales leadership because it is built on trust or experience, or both.

Inspirational influence

Chances are you would prefer a leader who inspires you over one who is autocratic and/or a Machiavellian. The opposite of inspirational leadership has terms like repressive, suppressive and unprovocative. If you are a manager, which method seems to be more productive and fun for you?

Employees like to be inspired, or transformed, to do great things rather than be repressed and uninspired. Great leaders inspire their reports on to great sales performance. They help their followers go beyond themselves.

Intellectual stimulation

Do you feel like a leader managing a bunch of dead heads? Do you have a boss who doesn’t get it, lacks any original thought and is not open to new ideas? Chances are both situations are devoid of intellectual stimulation. This is the practice of promoting intelligence, rationality and careful problem solving to, in this case, sales. As a leader do you cultivate and actively solicit intelligent thought from your reports? Are you disciplined to keep leader-subordinate business discussions on a rational basis or do you entertain irrational discussions that waste time? Do you challenge subordinates at an intellectual level to get them to think about themselves and the business? Leaders should want their subordinates to think and reason-out problems and the best way to attack opportunities.

Promote intelligence

Good leaders promote intelligence because intelligence makes for more professional sales presenters. You want to advance your subordinates’ careers in every way you can. That includes promoting educational opportunities to learn about the craft, themselves and life. When you do this, you will generally develop deep devotion and loyalty from your subordinates to you. This is all the stuff of great sales cultures and the talented leaders who run them.


From my experience, true rational thought is scarce in sales cultures because of organizational constraints that prohibit rational thinking. Those constraints are 1) limited or unreliable information regarding possible alternatives for decision making; 2) a limited capacity for the human mind to evaluate and process information that is already available; and 3) a limited amount of time available to make a decision. Given these constraints, leaders want to make rational choices but settle for decisions that are “satisficing.”

Satisficing is making a decision that achieves minimum satisfactory results that are familiar, hassle-free, and secure. In making a satisficing decision, the leader recognizes and abandons rational decision making because it would result in additional costs and risk.

Careful problem solving

Great leaders take time (which can be scarce on occasion) to carefully solve problems. Since most organizational problems involve people, special care needs to be taken to properly triage, diagnose and take action to resolve the problem(s).

Great leaders do not solve problems by autocratic edict. They involve staff members who have a stake in the problem. They get their input and, thus, get their skin in the eventual decision. Leaders who fail to get buy-in from subordinates run the risk of alienating their staff and developing an apathetic attitude among their reports. This ultimately leads to the emperor-has-no-clothes syndrome where staff is fearful of the leader and reluctant to say anything antagonistic toward the leader for fear of reprisal.

Now we’re talking about a bad culture, bad leaders and a caustic environment for employees. This leads to higher presenteeism, turnover, and all that nasty stuff that smart thinkers counsel companies to avoid.

Leadership and power

Power is a primary tool that leaders use to get things done. It is not the only tool and which power tool one uses determines in part the effectiveness of the leader. Leadership and power tactics are closely intertwined. Here are a few power styles that we see in leaders. Make a mental check of which type of power your leader uses on you, or if you’re a leader, which type of power you use on your subordinates. Here are a few styles that leaders use to project power.

Position Power – This is power that comes with the position that the leader holds. Take away the position and you take away the power. Relying on this form of power makes a leader mostly a transactional leader; not exciting and nothing to write home about.

Coercive Power – This is power that is used to manipulate others and to punish people for wrongdoing. It is a tool, but not a tool that great leaders use. Are you a leader who uses coercive power on your staff, even sparingly? Are you a staffer affected by coercive power? How does that make you think and behave about your job? Does it motivate you to sell?

I rest my case.

Expert Power – This is power that is derived from one’s outstanding expertise in an area. It may be superior sales skills, unequalled knowledge of the business, things like that. The thing with expert power is that the holder is a magnet for others who desire that knowledge. He or she is a go-to person. Because others are dependent on his or her knowledge the person with expert knowledge has power over others.

Referent Power – This is the most abstract of the power styles, but maybe the most important to seek. Perhaps you remember when you were a kid that you and all your friends tended to congregate at a certain friend’s house, all the time. Why? Is it possible that all that had something to do with the one friend’s personality and likeability? Now fast-forward to your business life. Is there someone in your organization who has that something, those special personal and knowledge characteristics that cause you to defer to his or her judgment even if the referent power individual has no formal authority or position from which power tends to emanate?

Transformational leaders have an abundance of referent power. That is a special quality that makes people listen to them. A transformational leader with referent power is, arguably, the best candidate for leading a healthy sales culture. He or she will motivate you and bring out the best qualities in you for all to see. He or she will make you a star because that is what this leadership profile does.

Are you that type of a leader? Do you work for a leader like I’ve described in the past two paragraphs? Do you agree that this is the type of leader we need to head up a healthy sales culture? I’d be interested in your thoughts if you’d email me. Seek to be a great leader. It is noble undertaking. Our industry desperately needs leaders – not more managers. In fact, let’s fire a few managers. E

Davidson, CEBS, is the founder of future, MedAnalyzer suite of health care analytics and He is also on the faculty at the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Reach him at

What it means to be a leader

Here are few likeable quotes on leadership that I think you’ll appreciate after reading this column:

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen Covey

“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” – Tom Peters

“Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it.” – Omar Bradley