I was conducting a leadership program for one of my clients in Maryland. The class was ready to start, but the CEO pulled me aside. He wanted to say a few words to kick off the training session. Much to my surprise, he got up in front of the group and “sold” the class before I even started. He sold the quality of the content and my qualifications. He explained how hard they searched before they selected me. He emphasized how lucky they were to be in the class. By the time he was done, the group was excited and fired up for a full day of training.

If this sounds unusual, that’s because it is. I travel to many companies to conduct training programs and never meet or speak with the CEOs. They never introduce me or the class, let alone sit in on a class as students. (The CEO in Maryland did, of course.)

So what is the secret this leader knows that many others don’t? You have to be a salesperson if you are going to be a great leader. Any initiative has to be promoted, marketed, pushed, sold, and illustrated with dramatic and entertaining stories. “What?!” you think. “I am a leader. I’m not a salesperson. If I were, I would have gone into sales.”

Well, I have news for you. In order to be an effective leader, you have to be a storytelling salesperson. Think Steve Jobs, Sir Richard Branson, Sir James Dyson (you know, the vacuum cleaner guy), and Martha Stewart. They are all amazing sales pros.

Still not convinced? Here are the reasons why the leader as a storytelling salesperson is so important.

They will not do something just because you tell them to do it.

I know: you think because of your positional power, people will just do what you tell them to do. Well, yes, for a short term this might be true, but here is the real story. In order to get people to perform at a high level for the long term, they can’t just follow orders.

They must also act because they want to and because they believe in the products, the company, or the mission. The way we get them to believe is by selling them. You sell them the same way you would sell a prospective customer. The reality is the team members are your customers, and they have to buy in.

They need the facts.

In spite of our high-content, communication-tools driven business world, people still feel very much out of the loop. They don’t know what is going on. To overcome this, we need to fill in the details for them. We need to provide the “why” answers. We need to communicate, educate, and motivate—all the things a great salesperson does.

Oh, I know you think your managers relayed information to their team members. In your mind, the message went out from the top and cascaded beautifully throughout the organization. Wrong. Some managers forgot to mention it. Some didn’t like the idea and criticized it to their people. Some were just too busy.

I have been in hundreds—no, thousands—of meetings during which the leaders said something about an initiative. Half of those in the room had no idea what these people were talking about.

Great leaders are constantly delivering information and selling it with stories, examples, facts, and figures that people will remember.

You want to evangelize them.

Why? For the most obvious reason of all: you want them to become sale people for the ideas as well. You can sell the story, but the reality is you want a giant group of other people repeating the story and evangelizing it to others, including employees, customers, friends, family, and vendors. Everyone becomes a sale person.

There is nothing more compelling than a message delivered with passion and energy. As Brian Tracy once said, “Selling is a transfer of enthusiasm.” I would argue that leadership is a transfer of enthusiasm. A gifted leader meets with a group and gets them excited. Their enthusiasm is then transferred to others.

Morale is increased.

When people are excited and energized, morale increases dramatically. You can feel it. I have been in many offices where there was low morale, and it was obvious and palpable.  You could feel it in the air.

It is how a culture is built.

What is a corporate culture? It is an agreed upon set of beliefs, customs, and practices. How is that culture built? In many ways, but one important way is by the leader selling the beliefs, customs, and practices, one on one as well as to groups. Eventually, people start to adopt those beliefs. Presto! Change-o! We have a culture. 

I once had the opportunity to see a CEO and a CFO meet with groups for weeks on end, speaking to a different group each time. I got to see each one as I was the host. What was fascinating was that they told the same story the same way every single time. They were culture building, but they were doing much more than that. They were selling.

Are you sold? I hope so.  What do you need to have happen this year?  What stories can you use to connect your goals with the people around you?