Wednesday, December 9, 2009

As a Leader are You a Seller or a Teller?

They’re the making or breaking of our working worlds at times, our supervisors and managers—as a group—our leaders. We’ve been inspired by them and betrayed by them. We can recall all sorts of leaders in our time reflecting over our working experience; and, even to leaders in the community and in the field of sport and politics—they’ve all left their mark.

Some were sound leaders, comfortable people to work for. Others were inspirational, yet ironically demanding. Still others again were ambivalent—we never knew where we stood with them. Others still brought out the very best in us, and that, for the team too. We reminisce with intrigue and fondness.

In our reflections we can define them accurately according to transformational (selling) versus transactional (telling) leadership styles.

We’d ordinarily be fooled to think one is over and above the other. Both have their times and purposes, yet it’s probably the transformational (selling) leader who’s most preferred in Western, Y-generation culture.

Let’s analyse them:


The selling leader wins in this department; they endear the hearts of their followers to a core, shining ideal they can believe in and fight for. The telling leader, on the other hand, is better at managing ‘by exception’—the vision is hence a known one, but this leader’s people are perhaps not that inspired to go above and beyond; so long as they hit pre-determined levels of success they’re “safe.”


The situation is key. There is a situation for both selling and telling leaders, just as there are times of transformation and times of transaction. Wartime and times of market-enforced change brings out the transformational leader, whilst steady-state (i.e. peacetime) is ideal for the transactional leader who can more easily maintain the status quo.


The devil is in the detail and the selling leader will often not pick up the vital details. He or she will be well advised to ensure they have transactional people to counsel on details ordinarily missed. The telling leader may, however, over capitalise on the aspect of delving into the detail and thus disengage their people potentially.


The teller is quite highly predictable and the seller is not. Both offer advantages depending on the situation.

Energy Levels

The transformational leader has plenty of energy and he or she intuits this sort of drive in others, though they’re warned not to overdo it, burning their charges out.

Organisational Versus Personal

The benefit here is clearly to the transformational, selling leader. Part of their vision necessarily incorporates the selling of not only an organisational coup, it leads to personal gain too, whether that be in pure inspiration or a more tangible benefit via exposure, skills etc.

Being Both a Selling / Telling Leader

It’s clear that being adaptable to the situation is the key for the leader in switching emphases between selling and telling. Having a blend of both in accord with the situations and encounters of life can only be helpful, and not simply for the leader, but for all.

© 2009 S. J. Wickham.

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