26 Aug Establishing a Line of Sight
This blog is a belated tribute to a young lady named Marcie, who I worked with more years ago than I want to recount.
I was a young District Sales Manager at the time, working for a company that was quite undersized – but enduringly optimistic.
I was responsible for several states – had a team of sales professionals who reported to me – and was convinced that I was an emerging titan of industry on an ascendant trail to corporate immortality (and yes, I exaggerate… but not by as much as I would like).
Marcie had come to work for us as a sales professional in a bit of a convoluted way – little to no experience in the space but with an air of confidence about her that was …well, unusual.
I had worked for 4 plus years in sales before I moved into management – and had the requisite merit badges to earn the role. What I didn’t know, when I reflect on it today, astounds me.
And then I met Marcie.
On my first “ride with,” Marcie met me early and outlined her plans for the day – which included a visit on the most prominent client in the territory.
I knew the name – everyone knew the name. He had a reputation of being highly opinionated, arrogant, condescending, and completely intolerant of sales professionals who darkened his door.
And those were his good points.
I explained to Marcie that her predecessor had never even seen the man. Sales professionals with other companies who had came back with horror stories of his dismissive attitude.
Some had literally wiped him from their database – even though he was responsible for a lot of business.
The assumption was “We’re better off not seeing him and hoping he might use our product than seeing him and incurring his wrath.”
So I suggested to Marcie that we aim a bit lower in our first days in the market – instead take the time to “learn the ropes” and gain a bit more business savvy.
“Attila”, I suggested, “Could wait.”
Marcie brushed that notion away. And she was so darn insistent that she could handle the situation that I finally acquiesced.
“Well, at least she will see just why the Dark Lord is the Dark Lord”, I reasoned.
And then the most amazing thing happened.
We swept into that office as if on a cloud – Marcie with an air of confidence that was almost spellbinding. When she presented herself to the receptionist whose countenance rivaled that of Churchill on a bad day, she quickly won her over with charm – and by the end of the first five minutes had arranged for the “woman who could not smile” to join her at a local bazaar that featured carry bags like the one Marcie owned.
To my utter shock we were actually ushered into the office of the Dark Lord.
“What just happened?” I asked myself. I had seen Churchill before and with other representatives – and watched them shown the door before they could fully introduce themselves.
Marcie chatted with me calmly as we waited for His Eminence to show – and we could hear him abrasively addressing a member of the staff as he drew nearer.
Marcie was laughing about an unusual picture that was framed over his desk – seemingly oblivious to the gathering storm clouds.
“Is she just incredibly unaware?” I wondered.
The door burst open – our client suddenly framed in the doorway. He glared first at Marcie and then at me – as if a pair of cockroaches had someway made their way onto his dinner table.
“What is it…” he began before Marcie strode forward and thrust out her hand, a wide smile on her face as she introduced us.
Attila was taken off his stride by this, but he quickly regained his footing.
“OK,” he stammered, “But what….”
“May I ask you a question?” Marcie said before he could finish. She turned to the picture and asked, “Is that Key West?”
“Is that Key West?” Marcie repeated.
“Why, no. It’s Cancun,” he barked.
“It could have been Key West,” she opined. “Who’s the artist?”
“I … don’t know,” Attila stammered. “Now, I am very busy so…”
“Are you a boater?”
And then he paused. My guess is that he was beginning to wonder what kind of human he was encountering here. She didn’t respond at all to his overt attempts to bully or to intimidate.
It was if she was strolling with a friend down a peaceful country lane.
I was mesmerized.
“That explains the sextant.”
She pointed to a side table and the other nautical pieces that sat on top. “And I see you’re flying the colors of the latest America’s Cup Race.” Marcie waved her hand at the far wall as she spoke.
To this day I don’t really know what the America’s Cup Race is.
“Yes,” He answered and he glanced toward me as if to silently ask, “Who the hell is this?”
“You’ve been…to the America’s Cup…you’ve been of course?” She asked.
“No,” he muttered.
“I was there last year,” Marcie smiled and then she invited him to take a seat. “It’s really something you should do.”
Attila slowly shifted around his desk – and then to my shock, he sat down.
I figured that at this point I was in some kind of dream sequence – and when I woke up in the morning I would remember little of this.
Over the next 15 minutes I watched magic unfold. Attila was clearly taken by Marcie – this sales rep who acted nothing like a sales rep.
She was confident, she was assured, and maybe most important, she treated him as an equal – but not more than that.
Even when he asked what company she worked for she demurred.
“We’ll have plenty of time to talk about business … I would much rather get to know you a bit,” she answered.
To this day I sometimes wonder if Attila ever knew exactly what hit him that day.
I could tell you that we gained more in the 15-minute discussion that followed than we had in 10 years of sales minions meekly parading through the door before.
The client was destined to become our biggest market share producer. To the best of my knowledge, no other company would ever enjoy the access to him that we did.
There’s a postscript to this story.
I lost track of Marcie by the mid 90s. But the lesson she taught me about the power of “presence” traveled with me.
I would go on to work with countless executives in my career journey – some at very senior levels. Marcie had more of the “It Factor” in her little finger than most of them.
Somewhere along the way I coined a term to describe the “Marcie Effect”.
A great many have a name for it today – Executive Presence.
Unfortunately, for a lot of companies – and that many more leaders, it remains a bit like fairy dust that drifts out there in ether – we know it’s magical but we have a tough time even explaining it, much less bottling it.
Since my days with Marcie I’ve invested a lot of time trying to understand it myself – and somewhere along the line I reached a few conclusions that fly in the face of conventional theory.
These truths are anything but self-evident.
- Truth #1 – Executive Presence doesn’t really exist. Decades in industry finally carried me back to the Marcie Effect – real “presence” has absolutely nothing to do with privilege or rank.
- Truth #2 – Leadership Presence does exist. And there are people with an abundance in almost every company – they are the ones that either build or destroy your organization’s culture and its future.
- Truth #3 – Great companies leverage the power of Leadership Presence – while the mediocre ones remain oblivious to it, as if it doesn’t count if we can’t define it.
- Truth #4 – Charisma is not synonymous with Leadership Presence – even though a lot of people seem to believe it is. Charismatic people might also enjoy high “LP” but it is not the ultimate portal – regardless of the consultants who proclaim as much.
- Truth #5 – Great communication skills are an important ingredient of advanced LP– but ironically not THE most important. Truth be told, some of the most influential leaders are at best average here.
- Truth #6 – Leadership Presence can be taught – but there is a ceiling that is too often ignored by management gurus. Presence doesn’t come in the form of an aerosol spray. There are elements that are either already in place – or hopelessly lacking.
Ultimately, three foundational dimensions determine Leadership Presence – and ONLY three.
The first two are glaringly obvious –
- WHAT you look like
- HOW you communicate
But it’s the third that remains by far the most important – and the most misunderstood.
It’s here that we mine the authentic gems that form the nucleus of advanced Leadership Presence – and ONLY here.
All these years later, when I reflect on my first exposure to the Marcie Effect, I realize that, like so many of life’s lessons, the greatest insights don’t come packaged in a training manual.
I’m building out a Leadership Presence Workshop even as I write this – and not surprisingly, most of our discussion is focused on The Third Dimension.
The one that remains cloaked in mystery.
Marcie, wherever you are, thank you.