Achieving cyclical targets as an individual contributor in sales is not only a professional challenge – it’s also an emotional one. The role tests your ability to keep a constant positive attitude, despite high and low performance across multiple time horizons. When I moved from an individual contributor to a manager, I expected those feelings to lessen. I assumed the further removed I was from the customer, individual stack rankings and intense competition for incentive prizes, the easier it would be to see how my role affected the long-term outlook of the business.
Instead, I found that managing magnified my emotions. I often felt six times the excitement when my team performed well and six times the defeat when my team did not meet expectations. Having just been an individual contributor, I could too easily put myself in their shoes and empathize when team members were frustrated with their performance.
While empathy is an important managing quality, it’s by no means the only one when business objectives feel unattainable. Composure, for instance, is especially key when there is significant lateral and downward pressure. A recent Forbes article captured it well: “The composure of a leader is reflected in their attitude, body language and overall presence. In today’s evolving business environment, it is clear that leadership is not only about elevating the performance, aptitude and development of people – but more so about the ability to make people feel safe and secure.
Employees have grown tired of working in survival mode and thus want to be part of a workplace culture where they can get back to doing their best work without the fear of losing their jobs,” the author wrote. For me, it was extremely important to not only make my team feel safe, but also to help them feel excited about coming to work and putting their best feet forward every single day.
With that in mind, only being a great “smoke screen” for your team is not sufficient during uncertain times. Leaders must also find a way to be transparent about how an individual’s performance is impacting the team’s performance and, even further, how the team’s performance is impacting the overall company’s performance. Leaders should give as much context as possible for decisions being made, especially when those decisions are a result of the company’s bottom line. Giving a clear, balanced message is difficult – but critical – in order to build trust among teams.
During my time as a manager, I found that empathy, composure and transparency are three extremely important behaviors to exhibit when leading a team in a turbulent business environment. In the third part of this series, I will offer three tips to help both individual contributors and managers avoid the motion sickness of sales.