We've worked and continue to work with Managers from business and sport, all over the world.

In 2014, we won the opportunity to work with two very interesting groups of people who's Managers face a pretty much identical challenge.

Professional footballers (from Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion, Southampton, Rangers and others) and commission only sales people  in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. 

Having had the opportunity to get to know the individual players/salespeople, we've identified a unique leadership challenge, but footballers and sales people? What challenge could their leaders possibly share?

The answer is simple.

Both collections of people are either in form (on a role) or off form (in a slump). They are either on fire, or they aren't, 

We all know that when someone is 'on fire', they produce amazing results, no matter how challenging the environment. Make their lives difficult? It's impossible. They deal with everything you throw at them and turn it around to their advantage. 

We also know that when the same person is 'not on fire', the results are very different. 

How can it be that the same person is capable of such swings in performance?

In the Gurkhas, it's known as morale. When morale is high, performance is excellent. When morale is low, performance is low. 

Leaders build people and teams with high morale, it is a key leadership function. High morale teams fear very little and they certainly don't fear change. 

So footballers and sales people?

I was invited to sit at the back of team bus (as you do) on the way to Arsenal's training ground, with three players from a Premiership Football Club who were preparing to represent their country. Being a rugby player I had a view on footballers and I discovered that most of my assumptions were wrong. Sure they're paid a lot but so are many sales people I know. Like a lot of people, they are financially secure (though more vulnerable than many sales people). They also undertake a skill that is highly repetitive, where 90% of their time is spent in training, can be boring and is highly measureable. 

The difference is that when they lose, they get 'feedback' from their Manager and from their fans. When the 'feedback' is negative, they not only get it after they have performed, they continue to get it when they read the paper access social media and meet their 'fans' in the street. All of us have seen sportspeople get off a role, lose their form, struggle. It is difficult to watch. No matter how hard they try, they just can't access the skills we know they have. No matter what they do, it just doesn't happen. The challenge is the same for everyone who has to perform against targets and in a challenging environment. 

So what's the answer? How do you 'fix' someone's morale?

The answer is leadership. 

A former head of the Academy at Liverpool Football Club told me 'the difference between a good Manager and a great Manager is that a great Manager is a Leader. The problem with the Premiership' he went on 'is that there aren't many Leaders'.

So how does this link to commission only sales people?

The commission only sales people I met in the United Arab Emirates were self employed in a challenging but well paid role. If they sold, they could earn a lot of commission. If they earned a lot of commission, they could go home. They then didn't need to perform.

Because they were self employed, they didn't have to listen to their Managers, and most of them didn't.

For some reason, three or four of the Managers got very good results. Their people worked harder, were more effective and generated high revenues. This wasn't an accident. In the time I was there, I saw new people join the teams and watched them generate success very quickly. I also saw other new people join teams and generate literally nothing. It wasn't a coincidence. 

The difference between the teams?



So why do so many leaders fail?

The confuse managing with leading.

They're very different.

Why the confusion?

90% of leadership development is delivered by people who have never led and certainly never led people under challenging circumstances. The people who deliver this development don't understand how a leader behaves and how a leader leads. They know about managing and they talk about that. 

If you're going to motivate people, you're going to have to lead. If you work with people who want better results, they want a Boss who can enable this achievement. 

In short, they're demanding.

If they thought they weren't going to be led, they'd go elsewhere. In football, they ask to be transferred. In sales, they join another team/another business.