There they go! And I must hurry, for I am their leader!

Being in sales and sales management for thirty-one years has given me the wonderful opportunity to work with many people.  I have enjoyed the cast of characters who have been a part of my sales story and I have woven many of their personalities into my fictional work, The Unexpected Tour Guide.  Some have been entertaining.  Others have been “not so entertaining”.  But none of them have been boring – or at least I can’t remember any of the boring people. 🙂

When it comes to sales leadership – I have had some great sales managers who have taught me some fantastic skills along the way.  I have also had other sales managers who were not so great at their job – and I learned important sales management skills from them as well – even if it was from the standpoint of thinking, “Note to self – don’t ever treat your people like that!”

One of my favorite and most effective sales managers was a gentleman named Jack.  Jack gave me permission to use him as the sales manager in The Unexpected Tour Guide and the book does a nice job of describing his work ethic, personality, and leadership style.  He is one of my life’s heroes.

During the entire time that Jack was my sales manager, he never treated me like I was his employee.  Instead, he treated me like I was a coworker and friend.  At times, he almost treated me like I was a “little brother”.  He would coach me in becoming better in sales.  He would push me in the direction I needed to go when he could tell that I was not giving things my full effort.  Even when Jack may have had to correct me in some fashion, he always found a way to do so in such a way that I accepted the instruction.

I worked very hard under Jack’s mentorship.  Some of that effort was due to the fact that I wanted to be successful.  But a great deal of that effort was because I wanted Jack to be proud of me.

Dr. John Maxwell says that “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”  In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,  he refers to the lowest level of leadership as being positional leadership.  Positional leadership is a level of leadership where the main reason the leader is being followed is simply because of their title.  In other words, they are not actually influencing people’s behavior outside of the framework of the power that is theoretically bestowed on them by their position.

Positional leadership is not real leadership.  But unfortunately, it is a common mistake among sales managers.

Sales Leaders: Real leadership is reflected in how well you can influence the behavior of your team – not by gaining their compliance to a set of rules but by influencing them in such a way that they buy-in to you and what your team is trying to accomplish.

That is not always easy – but who said leadership was supposed to be easy?  So, what can you do to inspire your team to buy-in to what you need to accomplish?

Think backwards!  Stop focusing on your goals – and start focusing on theirs.

Don’t get me wrong.  As a leader, setting your organizational goals is a must.  Sharing those goals with your people is often a great way to achieve a team effort.  However, when your team perceives that you are only really focused on your own goals – your influence will never rise higher than the positional level.

Take the following steps to inspire your team:

  1. Take each person on your team through a process of setting their personal goals – followed by a plan of action that, if followed, will achieve those goals.
  2. Ask them to have an accountability partner.  This can be you or another member of your team.  I used the word “ask” intentionally.  Yes, you could require it but you will gain more buy-in if you sell them on the idea. Remember – you are their sales manager; you should be able to sell that idea. 🙂
  3. Then spend the majority of your efforts in coaching and equipping each of your team members into achieving their personal goals.

One final note: if the sum total of their individual goals are less than your goals for the organization – add members to the team.  Or teach them to stretch a bit.

Once your focus is on helping them achieve their goals, you will be amazed at how easy it is to get their buy-in on helping you achieve yours.

Lead them like they are indeed a voluntary army.


Do lead your team like a volunteer army, or like a dictator?

How is that working for you?