Last week I was asked to comment on a query from a new sales manger who wanted to know how best to establish himself as a leader when moving into his new role. I recently wrote a post of ‘leadership vs. management’, but his question prompted me to respond more specifically with respect to a sales manager’s leadership responsibility.
Leadership has many definitions, and sadly many of these suggest manipulative behaviour that is as far from ‘leadership’ as I believe you can get. The definition I find most palatable, valuable and applicable to sales management is…
Leadership is the art of getting people to willingly strive to achieve team goals
My experience in many organisations across various countries suggests, perhaps more than anything else, that great leadership is about dealing effectively with people in a particular situation. A leader is only a leader if they have followers, so leadership is not about competently holding a position of authority, but having an understanding of the principles that underpin the actual development of, and interaction with people in relationship to achieving a goal.
A leader understands that:
- it is essential to influence others toward achieving the goal
- while their position conveys authority, it’s actually their behaviour and attitudes that earn a respectful, committed following
- it is a central responsibility, and a key expectation of a leader to develop people and help to make them successful
- when they find the alignment of organisational and personal goals for each team member, they will be the catalyst for a dynamic reaction
Further, a leader demonstrates:
- a clear knowledge of the activities that are needed to achieve results, and of how to measure these activities
- focused attention on results rather than activities – all activity should lead to achieving the goal
- an alignment of everyone’s efforts on these results – so that team members are all moving in the same direction
- apportioning the overall goal into ‘bite-sized’ pieces which are precisely paired with targets and properly communicated so that each team member is clear about their contribution, accountability and expected result
- meticulous tracking and communication of all progress against targets so that individual contributions are properly acknowledged along the road to achieving what was planned
- establishing and maintaining a shared, value-based team culture that every member can understand, articulate and appreciate
- the exact behaviour and attitudes that you want displayed by your team members
- a track record or a commitment to try that which you recommend your team members to follow
- an openness, interest and appreciation for feedback, insights, new ideas and approaches from the field
- a willingness to actively listen to each team member, even if you don’t always intend to take action on their information
So the real answer to the question of establishing yourself as a leader when taking on a sales management role is about the fantastic opportunities presented to develop your capacities to direct, coach, counsel, inspire and encourage others to deliver the expected results. The process of learning how to lead is a personal journey that demands high levels of honest self-reflection and accurate self-assessment. It will also challenge you to be flexible and adaptive, as you quickly learn that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to guiding members and fronting your team.