How Do Sales Leaders Stay Credible and Legitimate?

By Hope Eyre on Mar 19, 2019

There’s this TED talk I like by General Stanley McChrystal called “Listen, Learn… then Lead.” We assign it as homework in our Leadership Academy, a 6-module program we’ve run for years at individual clients to ready their next generation managers for leadership positions across a variety of functions.

General McChrystal (who knew he was funny?) has several poignant messages delivered compellingly against the backdrop of combat, but his key takeaway is this: Leaders are good when they’re willing to learn.

“How," he asks, "does a leader stay credible and legitimate when they haven’t done what the people (they’re) leading are doing?”

It’s a great question. Certainly, the best sales leaders we know are those who spend significant time in the field with their sellers; mostly so they can observe and coach.

Spending time in the field with the express purpose of learning from or with your employees is an altogether different endeavor. It turns the “observe and coach” lens inside out, advertising to your employees that you’re willing to share in their experience and refine yourself as a result.

There isn’t a compensation package in the world that can drive the resulting loyalty and trust.

I saw a terrific example of this last week at a client for whom we were running two days of classic sales training.

The company makes frequent acquisitions; there are always new people. And they want to increase their cross-sell revenue, so we invited business unit leaders of all the acquired companies to join for the second half of Day 2, hoping we’d get at least a few of them to attend and share how they go to market.

We didn’t get a few, we got a bunch.

They didn’t parachute in for their section, talk about themselves, and then leave. They came for the whole day. Many of them came for both days of training, working concepts and exercises right along with the sellers. Mind you, these weren’t sales VPs. These were P&L-owning business leaders with multi-million-dollar operations to run.

When was the last time you saw something like that?

To be sure, they gained from spending time with the sale force: faces, names, empathy, knowledge about their organization they didn’t have before they arrived.

What they left behind, though, was a priceless model of leadership behavior that every one of those employees will remember and many will someday emulate. When it was finally their turn to present, the audience was rapt.

We teach leadership behavior like this in our academy classroom, but seeing such a stellar example play out in, of all places, sales training was the difference between watching Animal Planet and going on safari – you just had to be there to see the splendor of it for yourself.

If you have leadership examples or are interested in learning more about our Leadership Academy program, I invite you to email me here.

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Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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