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Lean Back: Being a Better Leader

A business leader taking time to step back and review information carefully.
Listen to lead better

I have been a salesman for nearly 30 years. I have sold pest control, alarm systems, kitchen knives, insurance, mortgages, real estate investments, scripture movies, and marketing.  When asked, most people will admit they don’t like salespeople. Salespeople can sometimes be pushy and rude. I’m not saying that I never pushed too hard or didn’t treat someone with respect, but I tried hard to treat people like I would want my mom or grandma to be treated, honestly, fairly, and with respect.

As I matured and became less desperate, I got better at being a kinder salesperson. A salesperson who is not treating you kindly is most likely desperate. Desperate for money, or to impress someone, maybe a boss. That desperation is what makes them say and do things that make their client feel overlooked and mistreated.

I was almost always thrust into leadership roles, so for most of those nearly 30 years, I was the sales manager. When I was younger, I would lead with desperation trying my hardest to succeed and perform my best, while always working to get better. Feeling desperate or fearful that I wouldn’t have enough sales or enough money, and afraid of not hitting quota, I would lean forward and push through or past those around me. All in the name of hitting my goal.

As I matured, I also realized that people who worked for me should also be treated like I would want my mom, grandma, or other family to be treated. It caused me to lean back and think of ways to better serve, to strengthen my influence.

Being a Better Leader

I have been consulting with a local company for the past 6 months. They have a new sales manager who hasn’t had any sales leadership experience. She is a hard worker, very detail-oriented, and has a great attitude. All great traits for a sales manager.

The one thing I noticed in mentoring her was the fact that she was always leaning forward. This even happens physically if you pay attention. She was leaning in as the leader of her team. Leaning into and past conversations toward what's next. She just always seemed to be leaning forward and when she did, it didn’t feel like she cared about the people she was with. She did care, but perception is reality, so it is important for those you lead or sell to feel what you intend. 

I recognized in her the same tendencies I had when younger. I gave her the advice to lean back. She even put a small sticky note on her computer to remind her.

As a salesperson, business owner, leader, or even as a human being, it is important to sometimes lean back. When you lean back and don’t just go for the sale, or try to move on to what is next, it will help your interpersonal skills. When you lean back, you will realize that the person you are talking to is a person. They are someone with family, friends, goals, and struggles, just like you.

As a leader, you will see the efforts that each person is putting in to perform at their best. You might also see that they sometimes fall short just like all of us do, but because you see them as a person, you will understand that we all have ups and downs and seek to help them through it instead of blaming them for their actions or the lack thereof. 

Lean Back

When you lean back you will slow down and notice things you might have missed when you were tilting forward just trying to get more.

You might notice more efficient ways to do the work you are doing. You might see that someone on your team is a great team member, but they might be happier or better served working at a different role, or even a different job altogether.

When you lean back, you might notice ways you can better serve your customer or potential customer. Maybe there are better ways to tell people about your product or service that are more effective, more curiosity-driven, and less salesy. Or maybe you will think of a way to give better customer service and show appreciation to the customers you work hard to serve.

When you hear someone say you should work on your business, not in your business, that is a form of leaning back. By taking stock, observing, and making the best decision, not the quickest decision.

You will also discover more about the people around you when you lean back. You will learn what their fears and struggles are. You will see through the happy facade we all put up. As a result, you will start to see people for who they are and become a better person, leader, and salesperson.

Fast-paced businesses with constant pressure to perform can make it easy to get caught in the trap of "leaning forward" into relentlessly pushing toward goals while neglecting the humans it takes to reach them.

By leaning back, you gain the space and perspective to:

  • Treat others with kindness and respect by recognizing their individuality and understanding that they are more than just potential customers or employees.

  • Improve your interpersonal skills by becoming a better listener and communicator. Cultivate stronger relationships and trust. Doing this will help you to become more respected. 

  • Uncover hidden opportunities by seeing the bigger picture as you discover more efficient ways to work, better serve customers, and support your team.

  • Become a more effective leader by inspiring and motivating others not only through your achievements but also through your empathy and understanding.

Leaning back is not about giving up or becoming passive. It's about taking a step back, observing, and making informed decisions. It's about recognizing that success comes not just from pushing forward, but also from building meaningful relationships and creating true connections.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and lean back and become a better leader. You might be surprised by the positive impact it has on you.


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This was a wonderful article. As a school leader, I am always striving to do this not only with adults but more so our students. I love the simple phrase, "Lean Back" It should be on some swag. It definitely sounds like an amazing title for a book. I have shared this post now with my leadership team, faculty/staff, and our student government. Great reminder. Great advice.

Ryan Spelts
Ryan Spelts
Dec 13, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Micah! I’m glad it rang true!


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