In the latest episode of The Rise Science Podcast, I interviewed Ron Needham, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at ManpowerGroup, the world’s third-largest staffing firm, and a decorated US Infantry veteran.
Ron’s impressive career as a sales leader at some of the world’s most successful companies, including elcom, Dun & Bradstreet, SAP, and Salesforce has always been informed by lessons learned serving in the military.
Drawing on all of this experience, Ron has made sleep one of the top priorities for his team.
Here are some of the key takeaways from his interview.
Ron has spent decades operating as a high-level sales leader in some of the most prestigious organizations.
But if you ask him about his impressive resume, he’ll credit his military service as the foundation it’s all built upon.
When he first joined the Army, Ron was a little overwhelmed.
But before he even finished boot camp, he realized the verbal abuse from his drill instructor, the lack of sleep, and the grueling exercise regimen all served a higher purpose.
He was being pushed to his limit emotionally, physically, and mentally. And he realized he was much more capable than he’d ever imagined.
He could achieve anything.
The time Ron spent serving his country gave him the confidence to rise through the ranks as a sales leader.
And once he got there, it also defined his leadership style.
Two military axioms, in particular, shaped him into the leader he is today:
1. Everyone needs to be ready to lead.
Unfortunately, in war, every soldier must be prepared to lead because an officer risks being killed or wounded in battle.
In sales, it may not be life-or-death, but an effective leader invests in the training and growth of their team. There should be overlapping responsibilities that make sure the team doesn’t fall apart when it is missing a member.
2. Officers always eat last.
Military leaders know they need to take care of their team before themselves. Their team needs food, equipment, ammo, and the training to step in if they need to lead.
You take care of your team before you take care of yourself; that's the way you handle life in the military. And I've absolutely brought that to business.” — Ron Needham
The same is true in sales. You are responsible for your team’s health and wellbeing.
And that’s why, especially in an unprecedented health crisis, Ron prioritizes sleep.
Which leads us to Ron’s next insight.
Ron’s experience convinced him that First Sergeant is the most crucial position in the military.
The First Sergeant had two jobs, which Ron affectionately refers to as “beans and bullets.”
And it’s exactly how it sounds.
The First Sergeant makes sure the infantrymen have the tools they need to do their jobs (bullets) and the proper conditions to do them effectively (beans).
Those conditions are the basic needs of any human, soldier or otherwise — food and rest.
Without these, our effectiveness plummets.
Health and wellbeing are number one in the military. If you don't have what you need, you won't be effective. You'll make mistakes and there will be serious consequences. — Ron Needham
And Ron has brought this knowledge to ManpowerGroup and applied it to the current crisis.
As COVID-19 started making inroads into the U.S., it was the beans part of the equation that worried Ron. He immediately started executing a three-step plan to weather the storm.
His process for getting things back on track was:
While battening down the hatches in the first step, the crisis further unfolded.
He started to realize the severity of the situation at the macro level — millions out of work, an economy in shambles, civil unrest — and at the personal level, he worried for his team.
Many had to work at home with spouses out of work or kids unable to attend school.
They may have had the bullets they needed for their jobs, but the beans were missing.
In the midst of such a wide-reaching health crisis, Ron knew he had to think differently about maintaining his team’s health and wellbeing.
That’s when he turned to Rise Science. If he was going to provide the beans for his frontline sales reps, sleep was a crucial part of the recipe.
We needed to start doing things to support the team as quickly as possible and Rise Science was sitting there at the absolute perfect moment for us to begin to look at how we help folks in a different way. — Ron Needham
Without it, they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs effectively.
Being a leader comes with its own challenges.
When Ron turned to Rise Science, his anxiety over his team’s wellbeing had already caused many sleepless nights for him.
He was carrying tremendous weight on his shoulders and was understandably tired. But in the process of looking out for his team, he was able to help himself, too.
That’s why Ron’s tip for being an effective leader is: Get your sleep debt under control.
Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body relative to your need, calculated over a roughly two-week period.
Ron’s a big believer in “taking your own temperature” as a leader. Leaders have a responsibility for their team’s wellbeing, but to fulfill their duty, they need to make sure their needs are met, too.
Even if the officer eats last, they’ve still got to eat.
For a leader, reducing their own sleep debt will help ensure that everyone gets their fill of beans.
In this environment, you’ve got to take your own temperature, whether that's sleep debt or other things. You need to step back and make sure you're doing something to keep your head right. —Ron Needham
And with COVID-19 upending the world for the foreseeable future, a sales leader’s responsibility for their team’s wellbeing has never been more important.
Look after yourself, and you can look after others.
And it all starts with healthy sleep.
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