Dr. Marvin Jolson was very dear mentor of mine and a true business leader; a trailblazing pioneer and innovator when it came to the areas of sales and marketing. Here was the guy who practically invented the way encyclopedias were sold door to door and the force and genius that enabled companies like Encyclopedia Britannica where he was Senior Vice President and, back in their hay day, MCI enjoy years double digit sales growth and greater profitability. In 1990, he received the Distinguished Doctoral Graduate Award from the University of Maryland. In 1999, Dr. Marvin Jolson was the first person ever to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the American Marketing Association to a scholar who has made a career of furthering the academic advancement of selling and sales management.
He’s written a library of books and has authored dozens of ground breaking articles, many of which have appeared in venerable publications and journals such as the Harvard Business Review, The Journal of Marketing, The New York Times and Sales and Marketing Management. Dr. Jolson was also the Editor of the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management. The legacy Dr. Jolson left behind also consisted of one of the most successful home security companies in Baltimore called CRIMPCO Security, which is currently being run by his son, and his two grandsons; leaving a strong and well entrenched empire for his family to continue to grow and nurture.
Dr. Jolson’s risk-taking tendencies, assertiveness, charismatic style is what won the admiration, respect and trust of his colleagues as well as his students. I remember, driving from my house in Potomac, Maryland about 30 minutes to the University of Maryland where I would visit with Dr. J (that’s what his student’s called him) at his office. He was the Professor of Marketing at that point, still teaching a few classes even well into his seventies. Dr. J’s open door policy transcend beyond his classroom or office. Occasionally, a student would even stop over at his house to get advice or to just say a quick hello. Dr. J made everyone feel comfortable, even his students who knew very well that the door at the home on Ridge Terrace, Pikesville, Maryland was always open.
I vividly recall enjoying the hours of debating the principles of selling and marketing with him. Dr. J would site his articles and case studies that appeared in the myriad of journals he was published in and I would share the most recent experience I had during the sales call I went on earlier that morning.
Dr. Jolson was the first person I reluctantly let review the very first manuscript I wrote; my first book on selling. Given the amount of red comments I received in my manuscript, in hindsight, I was probably better off giving him the manuscript on a day that either we agreed on a certain topic or philosophy or he ‘won’ the debate.
One of our favorite debates dealt with the level of accountability of a manager. We were both in agreement that in business, as in life you are fully accountable for everything that shows up in your life. It’s one of what I refer to as the universal principles I personally adhere to; one of the principles of attraction. As you can imagine, we also agreed that every person, every manager, is fully accountable for their communication, and that includes the message being heard by the other person.
Since we can control our communication and what we say, and we can’t control the other person’s communication and how they hear us, then we must learn to uncover and speak in a way that the other person listens and likes to be spoken to. Besides, who we are is created in how others hear us. Therefore, we must own the responsibility of the entire communication process and adjust our communication style accordingly.
While both of us agreed in this sound principle, there was always an interesting conversation that transpired when it came to discussing what factors determine the success and failure of a salesperson. That is, if a salesperson that you are managing fails, whose fault is it?
Whether your team consists of one thousand salespeople or just one, the simple fact stands; you are 100% accountable for the success and failure of your team.
Over the last several years, the media has focused our attention on some of the most devastating business failures of our time. People lost their life savings and were financially crippled by the fall of some of these business empires such as Enron, which was run by unethical, greed driven, sub-human, bottom feeders that thrived off the misfortune of others. In the wake of these ethical disasters of mind numbing proportion, the integrity of business leaders has been forced back in the limelight.
Yet, clearly not enough policing nor policy has been put in place to avoid these catastrophes from happening again, given the current state of our economy and the crisis that has crippled our financial institutions and again, the lives of millions of people. Which poses the question, have we actually learned anything from these lessons? We talk about them, and write about them but what changes have actually been made to prevent these disasters from happening again? What changes have you made as a result? Our society cannot be destined to continually be the victim of other people’s greed and their ability to shed accountability like a snake sheds its skin. Pointing the finger at the ones who profit the most from these crimes clearly has not served us well. The fact is, we all play a role.
Instead, we opt to stick our other hand in the fire by bailing them out with billions of dollars. And why not? After all, they’re too big to fail. According to Wikipedia.org, The “Too Big to Fail” policy is the idea that in American banking regulation the largest and most powerful banks are “too big to (let) fail.” Generally speaking, when a corporation, an organization, or an industry sector is considered by the government to be too important to the overall health of the economy, it will not be allowed to fail. This means that it might encourage recklessness since the government would pick up the pieces in the event it was about to go out of business. The phrase has also been more broadly applied to refer to a government’s policy to bail out any corporation. It raises the issue of moral hazard in business operations. (Gee, ya think?) The real definition of this policy is, “Once you get to a certain size in your business, you don’t have to be accountable anymore.”
It wasn’t too long ago when some noteworthy companies rose to the occasion or at least have made an attempt to do so, starting with taking full responsibility for their failures. Two companies that I’m referring to specifically are Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines. During the winter of 2007, devastating weather conditions combined with dreadful mismanagement and the poor deployment of resources caused the delays and cancellations of hundreds of flights, which left thousands of passengers stranded.
Here were two companies, who clearly screwed up – big time. But here’s what they didn’t do. They didn’t run and hide. They didn’t spin their story. They didn’t blame everything on the weather, as bad as it may have been. Conversely, here’s what they did do. They took responsibility, they apologized to their passengers, families and to the general public. They did their best to lay their cards on the table and let us know they made a big error. And in the spirit of good business practice and taking care of their customers, Jet blue offered their passengers refunds on their tickets, and in some cases, Southwest Airlines actually gave their passengers their flight for free. While it may not have been their entire fault, these companies still took 100% accountability for this debacle. They took full ownership of the problem even if the cause of the problem was outside of their control.
I guess the leaders of the growing list of failed banks, mortgage companies, investment houses and lending institutions didn’t get this lesson. The last time I checked, avalanches still roll down hill. It always starts from the top. (Here’s a chuckle. One of the banks that shut down operations was actually named, “First Integrity.”)
This is the type of mindset; one of full accountability; that a leader needs to adopt. For those ever-evolving cultures that embrace change and are strong advocates of personal development and lifelong learning, taking full accountability is a prerequisite for leadership in tomorrow’s companies, as well as for the customers that they serve. For today’s companies, how unfortunate it is that you can still survive and thrive without it. But the question is, for how much longer?