From Sales Hero to Leadership Zero

17 Jul

I’m sure you’ve heard the notion that “your best sales person does not always make a good sales manager”.  Every time I hear this I just want to shake my head and walk away, but I can’t.

Okay, full disclosure here.  I do have a training session “BEST Sales Leader Training”.  But I’m not going to pitch my service.  I really just want to share what I know.  Second disclosure; there is plenty of evidence that the notion has is somewhat true, but not because your best sales reps can’t be a great sales manager.  The fact is most employers don’t have the time or resources to give the newly promoted rep a “push-start” primer on team leadership.

I always begin training sessions asking participants to think about the best leader they ever worked for, and to suggest a one to three word phrase that would describe what made this leader so great.  Their suggestions are fairly predictable; great coach, mentor, great communicator, strong character, trustworthy, and trusting.  If you’re interested in more detail you can read the post “Leadership from the eyes of those who chose to follow”.  After discussing the drivers of leadership, I ask for the same input on the worst leader you ever worked for, and those answers are also predictable.  Micro-manager, untrustworthy, unclear expectations, devious, lack of communication, and I often hear the phrase “my way or the highway”.

The comparisons are pretty obvious, but the more interesting thought is that there can only be one best and one worst in a lifetime.  Most managers are going to fall somewhere in between the best and worst, and if you took the time to formalize a 360′ upward feedback tool most managers would get mixed input from the same group of team members.  You might get one person who says the manager was a great communicator while another says he/she didn’t make it clear what was expected of me, and a third might report that he/she didn’t give me the freedom to do my job.  The conclusion is not rave-worthy.  Each member of the manager’s team is at a different stage of development and therefore have differing needs.  When the manager does not assess their needs the team member struggles.  This is not my theory, it’s called Situational Leadership and the theory was based on the work of Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard back in the seventies.  I’ve trained people on this approach and it’s very good, but it’s also very esoteric.  So unless it is routinely reinforced it fades away rather quickly.

However give this some thought.  Who is best at uncovering needs, proposing a solution, and then getting the customer to accept the solution as their own?  The best sales reps are the extraordinarily accomplished with these skills.  Sales skills, coupled with the ability to decipher a sales pipeline, can indeed be re-purposed to create a leadership approach which will take all individual team members to the next level of productivity.

So if you were a Sales Hero, and got the promotion but not the training; don’t despair.  Think of each member of your team as customers.  Use those same skills that made you a Sales Rock-Star to become “the best leader I ever worked for”.


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