January 30, 2012 12:19 am

Worth following

People Follow You, by Jeb Blount, (Wiley, RRP£14.99)

 

As a rule, readers of the Financial Times probably avoid books whose sources include Wikipedia and Dictionary.com. And, in most cases, I am on their side. But Jeb Blount deserves a pass for his honesty because he has written a book on business leadership that, unlike so many in the genre, seems both credible and useful. It is unlikely ever to make it on to any business school reading list, but it would be of more practical use than many more esteemed titles.

Blount is a salesman and trainer by trade, and People Follow You draws on the experiences of ordinary sales managers and team leaders. It starts with the important point that people do not work for companies, but for the people who lead them. A good or bad company is an almost abstract concept for most employees. A good or bad boss is an acute reality. “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers,” goes the saying, repeated by Blount because, as he writes, “it is the brutal truth ... Far too many people leave jobs and companies that they love because they hate their leader.”

Good leadership, then, requires “humility, savvy, authenticity and keen interpersonal skills”. None of these is taught in any concrete fashion by most business schools. And yet, as Blount points out, leaders are nothing without people to follow them. “You need your people more than they need you,” he writes. “Another way of saying this is that you get paid for what your people do, not for what you do.”

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If you, the manager, came in one week and your employees did not, your company would quickly fall to pieces. If they came in and you did not, everything would hold together for much longer.

Blount lays out seven principles of leadership and five levers by which they can be implemented. They are not original, but he explains them clearly and with potent examples from ordinary managers, rather than the business superstars who all too often populate these kinds of books.

The principles are that your people are more important than you; to treat them as you would want to be treated; to remember that you are always on stage; that no one does stupid things on purpose; that people act for their own reasons, not yours; that you can only change people’s behaviour, not who they fundamentally are; and that if you are a manager or leader, chances are you are very different from those you manage.

The first of the five levers, and the most important, is to put people first. It is all too easy for managers, especially those with an MBA background, to focus on numbers and processes, rather than people. But the old Dale Carnegie salesman basics of treating others respectfully, being presentable and likeable yourself, and simply being a good person to be around still matter.

The remaining levers are all derivations of this first one – you must find ways to connect with people. This does not mean making a fool of yourself at the office party or trying to be their friend. But it does mean recognising them as people rather than means to your business ends, and discovering what matters to them and motivates them. You must then put people in positions to win, as this is how you elicit their best work, which then reflects back on you. You must also build trust and create positive emotional experiences for those you lead and manage. Financial incentives are only one part of getting people to work to their best ability. The rest is giving them an environment where they feel satisfied to work.

None of this is startling, but Blount does an excellent salesman’s job of repackaging and restating the obvious, and he makes these reminders well worth a quick and stimulating read.

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