Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.


Leadership Challenges: Sales vs. Substance

Repeatedly validated by survey and experience, a top reason for resignation is lack of confidence in one’s supervisor.   Leaders attempt to blend “sales” with “substance” sometimes mutually exclusively.  Sales training experts suddenly become experts in leadership training and confusion begins.

Make no mistake... sales skills facilitate success everywhere!  Most certainly one can’t effectively lead unless someone is willing to follow, and that takes salesmanship.  Without substance, however, leaders may lead down a dark alley into a brick wall or down an unfortunate path.  Too often we see managers who are all sales or all substance, severely lacking in one of the two. 

It is most definitely an organizational development issue to decide your employer brand in creating the right proportionality of “sales” vs. “substance” in the leadership team.   That decision creates a blueprint for hiring, development, advancement and the entire performance management system.   Employers with strong labor intensity rely upon the right people doing the right things at all times.   In this case, substance actually becomes more important than sales.  The key word here is “right.”   Employees who have substance are likely to recognize and respect substance in leadership, and successes can be attained.  In the less labor intensive environment, (e.g. quick training, high automation, low competition and/or low impact of human error), leader salesmanship may be a higher priority.   

Too often we see managerial candidates sell themselves into positions for which they are not qualified.  The salesmanship is sometimes so intense, it conceals the absence of substance.  Credentials aren’t checked.  Pre-employment assessment isn’t administered.  Lifelong learning doesn’t always happen.  Blame-shifting can wrongfully and frequently replace engagement.  When these folks are empowered, employees of “substance” tend to leave the system. 

Be careful as to whom you’ve empowered.  The highly “sales” driven manager lacking “substance” can be quite a gatekeeper, sometimes keeping the good ones down… or out.     


Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, February 17, 2009