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Herding Lions: Leadership Tips for Field Trainers

By April 30, 2019September 30th, 2021Focus On Training

Herding Lions: Leadership Tips for Field Trainers

LEADERSHIP/MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT – By Gus Prestera, Ph.D.

If managing people is like herding cats, then mentoring fellow sales reps is more like herding lions.

Being a life sciences field trainer can be a fulfilling way to mentor colleagues while also gaining valuable skills and experience that may lead to future sales manager roles, but also comes with the challenge of being accountable for driving learning and performance outcomes without having any formal authority over the reps. If managing people is like herding cats, then mentoring fellow sales reps is more like herding lions. Nothing is going to happen unless the lions want it to happen, so succeeding in the field trainer role requires mastery of soft power, which is all about persuasion and influence.

Here are some tips for the new field trainer:

  1. Align with your manager: Align yourself closely with your sales manager’s vision for the geography and for your role. Encourage your manager to share that vision with the rest of the sales team, positioning you as a key lieutenant with delegated authority. Some of their hard power will transfer to you by association.
  2. Reset your relationships: From one day to the next, you and your peers go from being work buddies to being something else: It’s not quite a manager-employee relationship, but it’s also no longer just a peer relationship. Take the time to speak with your colleagues about this 500-pound gorilla. What do they need from you to help them succeed and what do you need from them in order to provide that support. You can still be friends, but there need to be some new boundaries and ground rules.
  3. Deliver Value Early: Once you and your manager have reset the team’s expectations, you need to earn their respect, and nothing accomplishes that quite like getting some early wins. Find an opportunity where you can over deliver and help a colleague achieve big gains. Word will travel quickly that working with you translates into sales results, and then other colleagues will seek your help.
  4. Facilitate, Don’t Dictate: Marshall Goldsmith, a bestselling management author and world-renowned executive coach, likes to say: “I’m not here to tell you who you want to be. I’m here to help you be the person that you want to be. And that’s hard enough.” Part of your growth as a leader is learning to prioritize the needs of others and developing the patience to let them steer.
  5. Make Key Opinion Leaders Your Allies: In every region, there are likely to be one or two informal leaders who sway the group. If you can help these key opinion leaders and earn their respect, they will quickly bring the rest of the team in line with your plans.

The best and most successful leaders lean heavily on influence and persuasion.

Exercising soft power involves getting others to do things willingly, because they see it as something desirable and/or in their best interest. Most leaders use both hard and soft power, but the best and most successful ones lean more heavily on influence and persuasion, while the least effective ones are overly dependent on authority. Take advantage of this opportunity to grow your influence and persuasion skills and establish strong leadership core muscles.


Gus Prestera, Ph.D., leads the consultancy Prestera FX and is an organizational
effectiveness consultant, educator and coach. Email Gus at gus@presterafx.com.

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