The Best Compliment a Leader Can Give

I will never forget this moment. I was an enterprise sales rep selling complex B2Bsales performance improvement solutions. A prospective customer requested a face-to-face meeting with their executive leadership in the room. Doing what most reps do, I pulled my VP of Sales (a man I respected a great deal) into the loop and requested he make the trip west with me.

Together we strategized, prepared, and practiced our pitch for hours and hours (that was his style). No more than 10 minutes into the meeting, I knew we were in trouble. Not only had our content missed the mark, but also my performance was poor. Needless to say, the hour and a half meeting only continued to roll down hill and we retreated with our tail between our legs.

Even though I had called my manager in for support and guidance, it was my meeting. I had put together the deck. I had kicked off the discussion. I owned the presentation, and I felt terrible. Rationally, I knew it wasn’t from a lack of preparation. Irrationally, I felt like a failure — someone not meant to sell deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In that dark moment, where I was questioning all the decisions I made in my career, my manager showed me why he was a true leader. He turned to me as we sat down in the rental car and gave the best compliment a leader can give,

“John, it’s okay”.

He knew I was hurting, upset, fuming, and embarrassed. That moment in time captured the true essence of leadership.

Although I think most professionals in management positions are working to understand what it means to be a great leader, truth is, it’s a constant battle. A manager’s first reaction, almost without fail, would have been to immediately go into coaching mode.

  • What I did wrong
  • How to fix it
  • Showing disappointment
  • Thinking about how this will affect the numbers

Hearing a man I deeply respect say, “John, it’s okay,” showed he trusted me. There is something so powerful about leaders openly exhibiting trust.

Rob LeBow, author of “Lasting Change” summarized the important of trust well:

“When people feel trusted, they’ll do almost anything under the sun not to disappoint the person who gave them the gift of trust.”

From that point forward, the compliment my mentor and leader gave me, made me not only want to work harder for him, but also made me never want to disappoint him (again). To top things off, we overcame the horrible meeting and won the prospect’s business. I know not all sales blunders turn out this way, so it makes me think my manager was even wiser than I could have imagined.

Today I use the compliment “It’s ok” and use it with my team in an effort to communicate my trust for the work they do. “It’s ok” for you to learn from this and I hope your able to use it in your organization.

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