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Splitting Hairs: A Study in Failed Leadership

I sat, bewildered, sweat dripping from my brow, wondering why I had been called here. Since I began my work with this not-to-be named Real Estate company I had been the paragon of salesmanship.  I climbed to the top of the sales ladder after one week on the floor. I hit my quota of 150 plus outbound calls per day (there was no way my manager could know that at least half of these were instant hang-ups, right?)I had even purchased a brand new business wardrobe, complete with tie-clips and suspenders, an almost Herculean feat for someone who wears sweatpants to restaurants. I was, for all intents and purposes, an A student.

Why, then, was I called into a special meeting to review my performance? Was I getting promoted already? It had only been a month. I was good, but was I that good? I thought back to my training. A Vice President of the company, Les, had personally trained me and a few others on the ways of selling over the phone. He was a fossil of the coke-infused 80’s era; a copy of a copy of Gordon Gecko.  He was short and muscular, with loud and proud silver hair, slicked back with what appeared to be cement. Les was filled to the brim with stories and catch phrases, but light on substance and leadership.   His name was Les. That can’t be a real name. My most vivid memory of our training together was him recounting his time in the Special Forces as an analogy for closing sales.

“I was in a bar in Bangkok. This son of a bitch was starting with me so I beat his face to a bloody pulp then went back to the bar. Out of nowhere I feel a whack on the side of my skull. It was the son of a bitch. I hadn’t closed the sale. He was still breathing” Now go sell Real Estate!

Terrifying relics from Bright Lights Big City notwithstanding, I had done my time in training and proved to be a promising member of the team. So I couldn’t imagine…

Pet, our twenty-seven year old Vice President of Sales, busted into the room like the Kool Aid Man, full of bluster, frat-boy machismo, and spikey hair. Pete’s idea of motivation was to blast Top 40 Hip-Hop drivel throughout the sales floor and take away our chairs.

“No one sits until we book 5 FSBOs”–For Sale By Owner, the meat and potatoes of our business. Our main charge was to harass people who had listed their own homes on the internet into listing with us.  The Call Center employees set up the appointment for the Listing Agent, who would close the deal.  Being the former, my sole purpose was to set appointments. This was most easily done by lying to the FSBO and leading he or she to believe that we were prospective buyers rather than agents.   How standing up helped to speed this process is, as of yet, still hidden in the Foxtons manual. I believe the chapter is seated between “Why you need to wear a suit to a job at which you will literally never see a client in person” and “The benefits of cold calling customers on Sunday morning”.

Where was I? Pete, right. Pete bounded into the room like a six year old.

Pete said, “Jay, Jay, Jay, my MAN. How are you doing? You are the MAN. THE MAN.”

Jay heard: “Jay, Jay, Jay, please, call a doctor, I’ve had 17 red bulls and it’s 11 a.m.”

Pete continued, “Jay you are doing so awesome man. You have a real future at this company”

Jay heard, “You are going to be stuck in this awful job for the rest of your life”

Pete went on, without interruption, “Jay, your sales numbers are through the roof. You are great on the phone, and you show a real spark. You’re just the kind of employee I like to have working for me. But, there is one thing…”

Oh no. What could the one thing be? Are my clients not properly “hearing my suit over the phone?” (direct quote).

“Jay…I don’t know how to say this…but it’s your goatee. There are a few stray hairs and it needs to look more clean. I have some razors for you.”  My mouth agape, I took the razors, went to the bathroom, and did it. Because it was my job. Because my boss told me to. Because my leaders, like Wesley Snipes in White Men Can’t Jump, were more concerned with looking good than they were with winning.

Three months later, I left the company due to “personal reasons” that included receiving a Workers’ Compensation settlement that allowed me to be unemployed for a year. Six months later, the company closed its American doors, leaving me to wonder to no one in particular: If Pete and Les had been less preoccupied with hair gel and gentrified hip-hop music, and more concerned with running an honest business by cultivating their employee’s skill sets, would I still be wearing a suit for no reason today?



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