This interview was given to Pharmaceutical Sales Representative Magazine and contains information that is still current and vital for today’s professional in any field.
“How do you describe your job? Do you feel that you are simply a salesperson whose only real duty is to sell as much of your products as you can? If so, this month’s column is for you! The average rep might get away with this mindset, but the best reps in this industry see their jobs in terms of both sales and leadership.
This month we speak with Orlando Ceaser, author of Leadership Above the Rim: The Poetry of Possibility. He has authored numerous articles, books and CDs, and has a comic strip on leadership, motivation and personal development. Formerly the Senior Director of Diversity for AstraZeneca, he is now a motivational communicator for Watchwell Communications, Inc, We speak with him this month to tap into his over 30 years of experience to learn how the best reps use leadership skills to get to the top of their field.
Orlando, you have worked with reps from a variety of vantage points. Why don’t we start by giving us a definition of leadership as it pertains to a pharmaceutical sales representative?
Leadership is defined in the eyes of the customer. The pharmaceutical sales representative, who helps their clients reach their vision of quality patient care, will be perceived as a leader. They will lead by example and develop credibility through technical expertise and outstanding customer service. Their responses to questions will be in the best interest of the customer. Their objectivity will create meaningful trusting relationships. They will be in the upper echelon of sales reps by using their talent, skills and resources to provide value and exceed customer expectations.
How do you see the industry’s most successful representatives using their leadership skills to advance their careers?
These individuals are not afraid to take risks. They will openly ask questions in meetings, volunteer for special projects and coach and challenge their peers. They recognize that each interaction is an interview, so their time in front of senior leadership is used as an opportunity to demonstrate their talent and tactics. They realize that the first step to a promotion is doing their current job to the best of their ability. The most successful representatives know that advancing their careers does not necessarily require a promotion or relocation. They may accept a lateral move, as well as a higher rung on the career ladder.
The successful sales representative will use a mentor or coach to help them improve their performance and counsel them on their career. They will develop advocates who are aware of their track record. These representatives are continuously learning and looking for ways to excel among their peers, by being competitive, but not in a negative manner.
If a rep doesn’t have a lot of experience in leading other people, where can he or she begin to get that experience?
Experience leading people can be gained on the job by taking the lead on projects and volunteering to assist their manager on special teams and with field training new representatives. They will gain valuable experience leading a team and learn to influence without authority. Additionally, there are opportunities away from the job where they can hone leadership skills. Sales representatives may volunteer in local community, religious, social, military and sports programs.
Sales representatives should let management know the scope of these leadership opportunities and the skills being developed. It is a good idea to have leadership development as a career objective and read books, take classes, attend seminars to help fulfill the leadership objective.
What do you think are the top one or two qualities and/or habits that make a great leader in this field?
Great leaders have the ability to rally a team to a cause greater than themselves. Marcus Buckingham, the author of First break all the rules and The one thing you need to know, says, “Great leaders rally people to a better future.” This vision of the better future is passionately presented, designed and executed. People follow because they can see how it will benefit them. Clarity in defining the future and optimism as they alleviate the fears of their team is necessary to keep them focused on achieving corporate and personal objectives.
What one or two qualities or habits do you think are very destructive in people who are in leadership roles?
I have noticed a number of leaders lose control of their organizations lacking integrity and trustworthiness. These are more than moral failing; they strike to the core of motivating a team to strive for the future espoused by a leader. If people don’t trust the leader this will impact morale, levels of engagement, productivity and sales results. It will also prevent the leader from retaining their top talent.
Additionally, in a global economy, leaders who are not inclusive or culturally competent will be a liability to their organizations.
What would you tell a representative who feels that they don’t have the basic skills or characteristics to be a leader? Perhaps they don’t like to be in the spotlight, or lack confidence in speaking out and giving their opinions, for example.
I would suggest reading books on leadership and discussing leadership skills with their manager. They may be mistaken regarding their ability to lead. In these current economic times, it may be a competitive advantage to acquire leadership qualities. For example, speaking up at meetings is a skill set that can be developed. Some people are introverts who like to process information differently and may take time to think through a response before commenting. Participation strategies and tactics can be devised to increase confidence and engagement. I know people who write down questions before and during a meeting to structure their thoughts. Others role play their responses before a meeting through mentally rehearsing their questions or practicing out loud.
Senior leadership makes decisions about the value of sales representatives from their ability to sell and their ability to lead. Expertise in selling today will cause leadership to ask the question, “Do they have what it takes to lead, tomorrow?”