Sales Management | Sales Techniques

The Truth About Sales Leadership – Everything You Need To Know

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There are many opinions about what it takes to be a good leader and sales leadership is the most challenging of all.  The following is largely inspired by the writings of James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner and if you want further reading you should definitely pick up a copy of their book “The Truth About Leadership”

Today’s sales leader operates in a dynamic world and his or her first task is to purge old belief systems and embrace a more realistic outlook.  In many respects the required outlook is actually fairly intuitive and thanks to Kouzes and Posner we finally have research which supports what our “enlightened gut” has been telling us.

Excellent leadership will not only result in proper utilization of the sales team but once is spreads across an organization it will create the sort of crucial cultural renewal that so many organizations are desperately in need of.

The Leadership Crucible:

  • There are ten key principles of leadership
  • Delegation is one of the most important leadership skills
  • Personal and professional growth are not optional for the leader
  • Strong leadership is synonymous with values, commitment and trust

The 10 Leadership Principles:

Much of what we are talking about below does not relate to the specific mechanics of leadership, the emphasis is more on leadership qualities.  The ten fundamental truths of leadership define the role of being a leader in any organization no matter what industry or product or service:

  1. You Make a Difference.
  1. Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership.
  1. Values Drive Commitment.
  1. Focusing on the Future Sets The Leader Apart.
  1. You Can’t Do it Alone.
  1. Trust Rules
  1. Challenge Is the Melting Pot for Greatness.
  1. You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All.
  1. The Best Leaders are The Best Learners.
  2. Leadership is an Affair of the Heart


Truth 1: You Make a Difference

Leaders should always believe in themselves. Before you can lead others towards a common cause you have to believe in the cause yourself and of course you have to believe in yourself.  A sales team is usually composed of fairly intuitive individuals and they can tell if you have doubts.  Leaders don’t doubt their ability to make an impact; rather they wonder what impact they can make.

You don’t have to be a CEO or in top management to be a leader.  Every part of the hierarchy of management has leadership influence and sometimes the best leaders are not at the top of the pyramid.

Truth 2: Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership.

Others need to believe in you for you to be an effective leader. The more people trust you, the more time, energy and effort they’ll put into your cause and the more they’ll stay committed to your cause.

Research indicates that people will follow you if they know for sure that you are honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent.  Sometimes these expectations of you will be manifest and at other times they will be hidden but still expected. Once people know you are credible they will do what you ask of them and they will take whatever view point you ask them to take and they will also take your guidance.

Truth 3: Values Drive Commitment

To be accepted as a leader, people need to know who you are in terms of what you believe in and what your values are. They will want to know what went into making you the person/leader you are today and the experiences and influences you have had.

People know that you can only commit to a goal if it is close to your heart. They also know that it has to mean something to you before you will try to achieve it. If you are clear about what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it, then can you lead. Your mission and your values need to keep you aligned no matter how tough the situation.

Make it an aim to be known as someone with principles and show that you are guided by your morals. This provides security and predictability for the people you lead.

Truth 4: Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart

People will look up to you as a leader and expect you to know what the future holds; they want you to be the compass that guides them through the unknown times ahead.

Learn more about the future by reading about it, discussing it with others and by using your own deductive skills.  Dig into the past to find themes and ideas. Be optimistic and positive about the future and be sure about the contributions you want to make.

Truth 5: You Can’t Do It Alone

To be a leader you must have people that follow you; for that you need to make a connection with them. This bond involves how you feel about others and how they feel about you.  Fundamentally, leadership is not about you, it’s about the team and if you are not a people person, you might struggle.

Don’t think you know everything, open your mind, and be inquisitive. Asking questions will give your constituents the freedom to explore and come up with their own ideas. They will feel that their opinions are valued and that they are a needed part of the team.

Giving people more freedom to make their own choices and do things their own way will let them feel that they are in control of their own lives. They will feel important and in charge, this will in effect increase their confidence, their self-determination and their effectiveness.

Develop your relationship with your team by getting involved in ways that let you connect and collaborate and let them know that you are confident about their abilities.

Leadership is a two way street. You need the strength of your team if you are to be a strong leader. Good leaders develop unity in the team and they try to hone the abilities of their constituents. Leaders ask for the help of their team members and listen to them. Leaders assist their team and are a sense of hope for them as they encourage their people towards a common cause.

Truth 6: Trust Rules

A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that the primary difference between innovators at the top and at the bottom of the Financial Times 100 list was trust. People need to trust you and you need to develop an environment of trust to allow innovation to take place.

Your credibility as a person and as a leader, your ability to reach a goal, your team’s unity and the level of innovation and performance of your organization all depend on trust. People should associate a feeling of trust with your personal brand.

The more your people trust you, the more they will listen and obey. Studies show that leaders in a high trust situation have better influence over their team members and they are more open to ideas from their group. High trust also impacts the relationship within the group.  The higher the trust levels the more cooperative and communicative the team becomes.

Studies of soldiers in Iraq showed that the more they trusted their platoon leaders, the more influenced they were by them. They were motivated to strive and improve themselves even in a bureaucratic environment such as the army. Trust precedes people following you.

With trust, people are not just obligated to follow you because of your authority but they want to follow you and become better as a team member.

Truth 7: Challenge Is the Crucible for Greatness

Great business leaders often turn around sinking businesses, start new ventures from scratch, develop radical products and change the way the industry they work in functions. In other words they face and overcome challenges and they embrace change.

Constituents believe that overcoming uncertainty and fear is the leader’s job.

When we study leadership, we are in effect studying how people direct in situations that are dubious, adverse and challenging; and how leaders help people through times of change and transition.

Truth 8: You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All

Leadership requires you to take action. You have to display to others that you stand for what you say and that you have values. You need to show that you can mobilize people. You need to be constantly in line with the values you claim to have.  Before you can be an excellent leader you need to carefully explore your values and what drives you.

Leadership is not about giving others orders, it is about showing what to do by example.  Act and think exactly the way you want your followers to act and think.

Truth #2 tells us that people will follow you if they find you credible, but they will follow leaders that act upon their beliefs even more quickly. Alan Deutschman, author of the book Walk the Talk says, “Leaders have only two tools at their disposal: what they say and how they act. What they say might be interesting, but how they act is always crucial.”

Truth 9: The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners

Leadership is not an inherited attribute, it is learned.  Anyone willing to put their energy into it can learn to be a leader.

As a leader you need to be open to new experiences and be able to reflect on how you or others perform. You must be willing to accept failure and be capable of learning from it. Don’t hesitate to try new things, they won’t always go as planned, but it will be a chance to learn.  One of my mentors once said to me “anything worth doing is worth doing badly”.  He was telling me that it’s ok to try and fail but if it matters do it even if you have weaknesses or skill deficits.

You need to be able to keep pace, absorb information and learn to do things in new ways.

Truth 10: Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart

Leaders need to be honest with their people and they need to be able to see reality. If the organization is in a dire situation, you have two options. You could tell people that they’re all doomed, or you could offer support and be a source of hope and guidance.

Positivity is an important trait in dire situations. Leaders need to exhibit positivity to limit the extent to which others lose hope and adopt negative attitudes.

Leaders need to love what they’re doing, their organizations and the people that work for them. By paying attention to people, making them feel important and sharing success stories they show that they care.

Leaders Say Yes

A leader needs to take the giant leap and say yes. Leadership begins with you believing you can make an impact and continues with others believing in you too. Others will believe in you if you are credible and authentic. You need to be clear about your values. Be future orientated, dream big. Share your vision with others. Don’t work alone build a team around you, people who you can go to for help and advice. Develop mutual trust, trust people and their capabilities.

Leaders need to persist and brush off failures and obstacles. Leaders must actively participate and take responsibility for fixing problems as they arise. True leaders feel they are destined to bring about change and that with the involvement of others, they can mobilize their plans.

No matter how long you have been a sales manager you need to honestly ask yourself “am I ready to say yes to sales leadership”.  Are you ready to dream big, overcome challenges, collaborate, build trust, learn, set an example and say yes to your heart?  If yes, then the adventure will begin, people will join you and you will discover real leadership – but there is no royal road -  it will take a lot of effort.

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