Leaders inspire others in many ways. Sometimes with drum beats, splashes of energy, pearls of insight or bold action. But more often simply in less ostentatious or visible ways. This series of short stories highlights a colourful palette of flavours of how leaders inspire.

One of my first full-time jobs led me into the world of Sales in the financial services sector. This adventure only lasted 9 months or so as it did not suit me in more ways than one. However, I have learned tonnes from the experience and from one person in particular. Her name is Corrie.

The way she demonstrated ‘tough love’ leadership in guiding me is what I remember to this day. Corrie stood or rather sat beside me to teach me all the tricks in her book. Her professionalism and ability to sell was an inspiration.

Be a tiger

Corrie was one of the most seasoned, senior sales professionals on a big floor of Sales Consultants. Our job, the Telesales team, was to provide advice to existing clients about our services and renew their existing annual contracts. Preferably at higher value, of course. Corrie had seen it all over the many years working there. Besides her own commercial success she had also trained and mentored her fair share of junior consultants.

I was, together with another 23-year old guy, part of a sales traineeship program that gave us the opportunity to be transformed into commercial tigers for whom no sales target would be too ambitious. It turned out that I was no ‘sales-tiger’ but rather a clumsy kitten at best, but that’s another story!. Whilst many of my experienced colleagues demonstrated lots of patience and help, Corrie stood out for me as a role model and beacon of support.

Offering clarity and focus

She made sure she and all the people in hear team were always clear on why we were doing what we were doing, namely serving the client whilst optimizing revenues for the company. Her focus on obtaining results was like a laser, and that created clarity and direction in all we did.

Support and Challenge in healthy doses

Secondly, she would help in any way she could to set me up for success. She was supportive and caring, yet she also did not hesitate to tell me what I was doing wrong and challenge me to do better next time. She offered support and challenge in required and healthy doses. And boy, did I need those to make it through each week! I also believe that she shielded me from the critical eye of the Sales Director, two levels above her, who scrutinized our weekly sales numbers versus target.

In safe hands failing is learning

Corrie demanded from everyone to do their best, and not come to her with lame excuses. She was treating everyone equally and fair, encouraging us to keep at it to learn the craft of sales(wo)manship. Therefore, getting uncomfortable messages about my underperformance and reading harsh feedback in my sales numbers never felt like punishment. Did I see myself failing in this job regularly? Absolutely. Did I feel supported and in safe hands, for sure.

In the end, this job was not meant to be and I decided to leave. But Corrie stuck with me, because her lessons have left their mark on how I look at leadership today.

We all need Corries in our professional lives, and be a Corrie to others. Especially when you think you may be a tiger but you’re not (one yet)