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Joel Burstein, a Sandler trainer from Pittsburg, talks about his best practices for leading by example. Whether you are a first time manager or an experienced executive you are leading by example, whether you are intending to or not. Joel shares his attitudes, behaviors, and techniques for leading a team by setting a good example.

Learn how to succeed at leading by example!

Mike Montague: I'm your host Mike Montague, and my guest this week is Joel Burstein. He is a Sandler trainer from Pittsburgh, and we're going to talk to him about how to succeed at leading by example.

Joel, welcome to the show. Tell me a little bit about leading by example, and why you picked this for a topic this week.

Joel Burstein: Well, thanks for having me, Mike. I appreciate it.

It's funny; I picked this topic because when I was around 12 years old, I spent six years in a military school. And through that period, I learned a lot of military principles and leadership qualities, and one that always stuck out with me was leading by example. And in a particular example, it was always if you're going to correct someone on how to shine a shoe, make sure your shoes are shined. And so, it always stuck with me.

And when I was 24, I became a manager at a brokerage firm. And I was young to be a manager, and a lot of folks thought I was entirely too young to do it. And I remember when I interviewed for the job, they asked me, "You're going to be young, you know, people are going to look down on you. How do you plan to show them that you're a good manager?" And I said, "Well, I plan to work the hardest to know everything I need to know. Right? So, I want to have as much knowledge as possible. Right? Be the leader when it comes to knowing everything." And as it turned out, that was leading by example. And so, it showed everyone else that I took the time to educate myself; maybe you should take the time to educate yourself as well. And in three years, I was the manager of the year. And so, that taught me that leading by example was so much better than telling people, like they say, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Mike Montague: Yeah, I think it's tough, especially as a sale's manager, but any leader. I go back to sports and stuff too that if you can't do it, it's really hard to start coaching somebody else unless you get to like a high-level coach. Obviously, Tiger Woods has a golf coach, and Michael Jordan had a basketball coach, and they couldn't do what those people did. But at the same time, that's high level. You have to be known as a really good coach; you don't start out on day one coaching Michael Jordan in basketball.

So, I think for most of us in day-to-day business stuff; they want to know that you can do it, or that you at least like you said, know about it. And that to me was a big one that I had to separate out in my head was there's a difference between knowing it and doing it. So, when I became a sales trainer, when I was teaching people how to do websites, I needed to make sure that I knew the stuff better than they did, even if they were doing it more than I was. Right? And so, as we transition over to attitude, what are some of the other attitudes we have to get straight in our head to be an effective leader?

Joel Burstein: Well, I've always been one for being overly positive. Right? I figure there's no real bad end to being positive. I can't ever see a downside to that. And so, I figure if I walk in in the morning, and I remember this, and I worked in the same office for many years, so I made the same walk to the same office for a long time. And I remembered that if I walked in, in a good mood, and I started the day off like that, and I said hello, and I said good morning to people, it became infectious.

And I think, if I remember correctly, an insurance commercial where they sort of walk around, and everybody does a good deed, leaves the next person to do a good deed, next deed, right? And it's paying it forward, and it's the infectious behavior that starts at the top, which is subconscious, to be honest with you. And that's sort of that example that people unknowingly follow. Right? If the leader walks in with a simple, "Good morning, how's everyone doing?" Right? The odds of somebody getting up to go get their coffee and saying, "Good morning," to the next person in line is pretty high.

And so, it's that attitude, right, of being positive around a lot of things. And as long as you are positive with what you thought was possible and what you could do, you would naturally go down paths that you weren't even aware of in that subconscious state that would create the infectious behavior. And so, I always thought that starting there was a great way to do it in the morning, just being positive.

Mike Montague: Yeah, I think that's interesting, because what you said there is you're leading by example whether you know it or not. So, if you're intentionally leading by example and you're doing things to make the company better, that's great, but even if you're not, you're setting that example. The culture starts with you as a leader. So, if you come in grumpy and stressed, everybody else is going to be grumpy and stressed around you as well, because you're the leader. So, that's awesome.

Anything else come to mind as far as attitudes and getting our head right to lead? Sometimes I think I know that I can get my head twisted into bad attitudes and other stuff of either an imposter syndrome where I don't feel like I should be the leader or I'm qualified to do something, to put too much pressure on myself to set too good of an example. I know when we're doing sales training, Joel, especially when we're on a sales call, there's this intense pressure to do everything exactly by the system, because you're an example. So, can you talk about that a little bit, maybe leading by example with failure and mistakes as well?

Joel Burstein: Yeah. I think, you know, I was always really good about talking about my failures, and even in my classes, I still do. I think there is a human aspect to it, and I think the humanization makes it more capable of people to come and talk to you when they have a problem. Right? I mean look, if everything's great in a positive environment, you don't have to do too much as a manager. It's not really what we're getting paid for as leaders and managers. We're getting paid for the bad, not the good; the good is easy, anyone can do that. It's the failures. It's showing people how you react to the bad that allows the bad to become good. Right? So, a lot of times, through the failure.

I always used to tell everybody, "You know, when you fail, you learn a lot. If you succeed, you don't know whether you were lucky or whether you were good. If you failed, you can simply go back and decide and see where you made those mistakes." And so, failure became a critical part and being okay with. And I think we teach that in Sandler about, you know, you got to fail to win. So, I think a lot of leaders and managers, unfortunately, become so high up on their pedestals that they can't allow their team to see them fail because that just shows weakness. The reality is it shows strength, it has a counter intuitive effect, because of the level of confidence, right? Because no one's perfect, and your team knows you're not perfect. And so, having a little bit of that failure humanizes you. And that's how you're going to build those relationships. That's where the bonding rapport, that's where the trust comes in.

Mike Montague: Yeah. I like that a lot. And I think it allows other people to take chances. And so, my example, it always goes back to my karaoke days. I was a DJ. And if I got up and sang a karaoke song well, other people would be intimidated and not want to join in. If I got up there and failed spectacularly and did something ridiculous, everybody in the audience goes, "Well, I can do that. Like, let's go for it." And all of a sudden, I had more people following me and joining in because I failed. And so, sometimes I think as a leader you need to share more of those flaws because then it allows other people to share their flaws. And like you said, builds the openness, builds the trust, but it gives them permission to try some things, rather than being worried about making mistakes.

Joel Burstein: Exactly.

Mike Montague: So, as we move over to behavior, how does that fit in to leading by example? I know I think a lot of obvious things come up here. If you're expecting people to show up on time, do good work, do their behavioral plan and cookbook of what they need to do every day, you should probably be doing that yourself, right?

Joel Burstein: Sure. Absolutely. I think this is probably the hardest part for people to do because anybody can have a great mindset for the day. It's a matter of being consistent with it. We used to have a saying, people never really, as clients, they don't remember whether you were good on Tuesday or bad on Friday, right? They're going to remember the average. So, if the average is 20% that you were successful, they're going to remember you as a failure. If the average is above 70% of good and bad, and you're 70% good, that's a good thing. That's what they're going to remember. They don't remember the days here and there; they just remember the overall average. And so, what we try to do when we would lead is that we would try to do it as often as possible.

So, if we were walking in and saying, "good morning," we didn't do that one day a month, as we're using this very simple example, but we would do it every day. It was an everyday behavior. It was a matter of getting up every morning, walking in, saying hello, doing that thing consistently, because that's what people remember. They didn't remember it if I just did it one day a week. They wouldn't remember it if I did it one day a month. And so, the behavior has to be consistent for it to stick. Right? And when we are leading by example, the most critical part of this is making it stick, having the behavior stick in people's minds. The stickiness factor is what makes a change.

Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that's awesome, and doing your stuff day-to-day allows other people to learn that they should be doing it day-to-day, and turning in their stuff on time. Like you mentioned earlier, when you're a leader, it's not "Do as I say, not as I do." You can't just show up and say, "Hey, where's your call sheet? And where's your debriefing? And where's your goal's plan and your numbers?" and not have yours. I think that doesn't set a very good example for the team.

Goals are one thing I wanted to ask you as a follow-up question because I found it interesting as we work with executives and coaching that sometimes they don't know what motivates themselves. And I wonder how can you know what your people are motivated by if they don't know if you don't know, then you're just really guessing, or I think everybody defaults to assuming that they're working for money, but that's not always the case. So, could you tell me, especially in your experience, how has setting goals for yourself allowed you to become a better leader by example?

Joel Burstein: Well, you know goals are tricky, right? Because I think people don't realize that goals are a moving target. We set this goal, and then that becomes the goal. Well, sometimes that has to evolve. The world evolves, the goal can fluctuate up and down. And so, we get sort of myopic when it comes to creating goals, where we just say, "Well, this is the goal. I didn't hit it. That makes me a failure," or, "I did hit it. That makes me a success." Well, I spent time as a financial planner, the market gives you what the market gives you. Right? I can't control that piece so that I can control things around it.

And so, my goals had to be more based on the economy and the business at the time. And I think to have the flexibility around the goals, having the ability to move the goals, and having the ability to say that these goals are okay today, but they may not be tomorrow, and let's have that conversation. It has to be done at your level because you have to be able to see those economic changes and those physical changes, right? And again, it's difficult to understand and empathize with your people if you don't live in their world if you're not doing the same things. Your goals will be different, but the goal structure and setting up the goals is important. And being empathetic through those processes, through those fluctuations is what builds the binding rapport what goes back to the trust.

Mike Montague: And, I also go back to vision and culture too. I think the leader sometimes puts those things in a box, and they say, "Oh, we wrote our vision for the company or the culture we want to have, and then, we put it up on the wall, and we forgot about it." But living those things day-by-day and adjusting them over time is that your goals for the organization and the culture changes every time you hire somebody that you have to reset those things. And that's great stuff.

So, as we move over to technique, what are some of the tools, tactics, or strategies that you use to lead by example?

Joel Burstein: So, what pops to mind, for me, was always about how I spoke to people. Right? And I'm a big believer that respect is not given because of the title. It's earned because of your character. And so, if you expect people to be open and honest with you, if you expect people to respect you, if you want them to come to you when they have a problem, you need to be able to at the same time go to them. Right? So, I used to have a thing where I didn't decide for my staff without getting their input. Right? And so, what happened is that is just one way to have that conversation with them. And guess what happened when they would have an idea? Well, they felt comfortable coming to me to have that conversation, because I came to them. Right? And so, that was that example of going, "I'll ask you. You come and ask me. Let's have this dialogue." So, the dialogue began. And that is just a very simple technique of just going back and having that conversation. I mean, if you as a leader can initiate something like that, they'll follow behind, they will, because they want it. They want to have those opportunities.

Mike Montague: And I think what I'm hearing is that the technique here is the leading by example. It’s that if you want your team to use a technique if you want them, we could pick any of the Sandler techniques, the Up-Front Contract, if you want them to set an agenda for a meeting, you should probably set agendas for your meetings and stuff. Right? You should set some of those things out and do it. It's one of the hardest things to do as a leader, but it's also one that gets the biggest results.

Joel Burstein: Yeah. I think it’s the hardest part about being a leader, and I always struggle with it. I think almost all young managers or even sales managers, people that just moved from one role to the next, if you're in sales on Friday, and then on Monday, you got promoted and got to be the manager, is a getting down to the human aspect of it. We forget that part. We forget there are people at the result of this.

And, we are naturally people who like to work in groups. We get married. We like to have children. We like to socialize. We naturally gravitate towards a community. Right? That's why we live in neighborhoods and so on, and so forth. And so, in the workplace, this is a sort of community, and we neglect the human capital portion of it. And the impact that many of the little things that we do are naturally observed because we're always looking. We're always looking for our leader to give us a little bit of hope, a little bit of whatever. So, that community aspect has to be so important, and we just neglect it, because we get caught in the whirlwind of our day. And if you make it the behavior, if you make it just sort of how you normally function, it comes across. It comes across, and it's much easier than trying to plan it out.

Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that's great, and a great point to start wrapping up on is that you should treat other people the way you want to be treated. You can't go in and be a jerk to your staff and expect people to be nice to you like that doesn't work. We all know examples of great managers who are nurturing, who take the time to listen. And you know, some days people are human, they're having a bad day. I had a grandparent pass away, or I hurt myself, or you know, the kids had something that was more important that day, doesn't mean that the kids are more important and a distraction all of the time, but sometimes, they take higher priority. Right? So, understanding that as a leader is a huge point, and I'd like to get to know you better, Joel. So, let's start with the first one, how do you define success these days?

Joel Burstein: You know, so I'm seven months into my Sandler business, and I have had this conversation numerous times with my many Sandler folks. And I'm beginning to define success by overcoming some of my biggest fears.

Mike Montague: That's cool.

Joel Burstein: You know, some people define success by doing behaviors, by the dollar amount, for me, it's overcoming some of my biggest fears. And not overcoming it on Tuesday, but overcoming it consistently, so it no longer becomes a fear. So, I discover new fears all the time, which is wild, right? You think you know them all, but you don't. And then, I define how am I going to get over it? When am I going to get over it by? And then, actually getting over it and no longer having that fear. That's success to me because if I can get rid of the biggest fears, you can be unstoppable.

Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that's great, and it might be the answer to the second question here, but I like how these tie together. What's the biggest lesson learned or hurdle you've had to get over in your career so far?

Joel Burstein: I would say when you're in the corporate world, or when you're in an environment where you were successful at one thing, and you have to take a million steps back to become successful at something else, mentally staying positive about that can be challenging. And I think we go through it, right? My example was just going from corporate to being an entrepreneur, but for a lot of people, it is just going from being a sales guy to being a sales manager. And all of a sudden, you realize that you don't know everything that you thought you knew. Any promotion can give you this fear of, "Oh my goodness, what did I get myself into? Can I do this?" So, we all go through it in a lot of different levels, and we do it in our families. Right? Our kids are going off to college, they're starting to drive, so we deal with all of these different things in an essence. So, mine was mentally going, "Ugh, I'm not as good at this. I'm not where I'm supposed to be." You think you're further along than you are in realizing that and being okay with it.

Mike Montague: And what's your super power? What's your go-to move when you need to be successful, what do you lean on?

Joel Burstein: Wow. My super power. That's a good one, probably should think about that one, huh? I should probably have a pretty good super power.

Mike Montague: What's allowed you to be successful in the corporate world up to this point?

Joel Burstein: I would say, for me, I tend to be a very passionate person, whether I should be or not, I can be passionate about some things that maybe I'm foolish, but I tend to be passionate. And so, sometimes when you start something new, you get so caught up in all the things that you need to do, sort of like a golf swing, there are 87 million things to do, right? That's the way a lot of life is. If I'm just passionate about what I believe in, I've had more success just by continuing to be passionate, and show that passion. Again, leading by example, people like that. They're like, "I want to be as passionate about my business and my clients as you are with yours." And I sometimes forget that or fall out of that place, because of the newness of what I'm doing. But if I can stay in that passionate place, it works spectacularly.

Mike Montague: Good, I like that. And then, the last one should be an easy one, what's your favorite Sandler rule?

Joel Burstein: You got to fail to win.

Mike Montague: Yeah.

Joel Burstein: It's always been something I've said, so it's still one of my favorites, still one of my favorites.

Mike Montague: Good. I like that, and it goes right into one of our new Sandler books. So, we have the, "Winning From Failing," book out that you can get on the Sandler shop at too. So, as we wrap everything up for everybody today on "How to Succeed at Leading by Example," what's one key attitude that you would like leaders to have?

Joel Burstein: Empathy.

Mike Montague: Good.

Joel Burstein: I think that goes a long way with your people, because they're never used to seeing it with leaders, and so, it's a great differentiator, it's a great motivator, it's a great trust factor, and most importantly, they're loyal to you.

Mike Montague: And one key behavior to do?

Joel Burstein: One key behavior as a leader, probably goal setting, I would say. Because we never really make the time in the corporate world for goal setting. We think we do, but we never do. Right? And the goals help create the vision, the reason, the justification, they're the reason you come in every day. And most times, in corporate America, or even in the business world period, we lose sight of where we're going, and the goals help you stay on track, keep that road map in sight.

Mike Montague: Good. And the best technique to use?

Joel Burstein: In all honesty, Mike, I would say that leading by example is a technique. I would say in and of itself that is the technique. I mean, being the example of what you expect, what do you want from your people? And then showing them, that is in itself a technique. I think it's an attitude, behavior, and technique all wrapped in one.

Mike Montague: I like it. Anything else you want to add? Anything that we've missed or you want to share with the audience while you have the microphone?

Joel Burstein: I think I've found a lot of success in managing through leading by example. I always tell people, and the name of my company is Keep It Simple because it is simple to discuss, but it isn't easy to do.

Mike Montague: I like it. Joel, thanks for being on the show. For more information on this topic and much more, you can follow us at LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @SandlerTraining, or get any of our free resources at As always, you can subscribe or leave us a review at iTunes or Google Play.

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