What makes a successful leader is a perennial question which continues to cause debate amongst leaders and followers alike. Whilst I won’t be able to give a definitive answer to this question today – I will be able to outline some actions which should help most sales leaders increase their effectiveness.
It is interesting to note two important aspects of leadership which seem to be supported by the raft of research that exists about this subject. Firstly leaders are usually intelligent, and, secondly, the style of leadership required is often dependent upon the situation that a country, an organisation or a team is facing. There is also an emerging body of evidence that supports a third requirement – that of emotional intelligence.
A classic example of situational leadership given by writers on leadership is Sir Winston Churchill. His leadership during the First World War – particularly regarding his involvement in the Dardanelles campaign – has been questioned by many. On the other hand, few would doubt that 25 years later his leadership through the blitz in London was integral to the success of the Battle of Britain.
And so it is with leaders in organisations. A personality and style which works in one situation may not work as well in another. This is particularly so with sales teams, where the ground is constantly shifting and the need for a leader to adapt is critical.
So, given this seemingly paradoxical starting point, are there things that a leader can do – despite their situation, and assuming that they want to behave in an authentic manner – to increase the effectiveness of their leadership?
I recently read a book by Dan Coughlin – a speaker, consultant and coach who works with organisations to help them accelerate their growth and profitability. His recent book “Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum” contains lots of tips on things that leaders can do to build their businesses. And, as the title suggests – the tips are ones that most people can apply almost immediately.
One of the chapters in the book looks specifically at leadership and gives 25 things that you can do to more effectively lead and influence others. In this article I’ve adapted these actions for both a sales situation, and to reflect an Australasian culture. But don’t forget – they need to work for you and for the situation you’re in – so use these items simply as a starting point to reflect on things you can do to be a more effective leader.
Dan groups these actions under five categories – demonstrating effective leadership; asking questions; sharing insights; challenging the way others think and clarifying ideas and actions for effective execution. Let’s look at each of these categories in a little more detail.
1. Demonstrate effective leadership behaviours:
- Act with integrity and be honest. These are the pillars upon which you build trust with others. Charisma and a strong personality won’t help you lead without honesty and integrity.
- Model desired behaviour by your own actions. Actions always speak louder than words – so make sure yours do.
- Demonstrate you believe in your team’s ability to succeed. Trust people to do their jobs well. Give them the tools and resources they need – and then let them stretch themselves. Check their progress – but don’t over manage them.
- Stay calm in the midst of a storm. When things go pear-shaped – and you know they will – stay calm. Don’t over-react. Don’t blame. And don’t yell and carry on like a goose.
- Step out of your own comfort zone. Demonstrate your willingness to do what needs to be done. Be prepared to try different things – and to do things differently.
2. Ask questions to guide the other person’s thought processes:
- Ask clear, concise and compelling questions. Artful selling uses thoughtful and insightful questions and artful leadership does the same. Your role is not to impress with your knowledge – but to elicit confidence, insight and creativity in others. Good questions are the vehicle for this.
- Understand the strengths and passions of others. This understanding will help you to bring out the best in them. Build on their strengths – and let their passion drive their actions.
- Learn about your team members past successes. Know what they’ve done and use this knowledge to build their current performance.
- Ask your team to act as advisors. When individuals are looking for answers to problems, ask them to step outside the situation to see how others may view it.
- Facilitate a group discussion. Leverage the power of the group by letting everyone contribute. It may be necessary to step back from the discussion to let the ideas flow. But – in the right environment – ideas certainly will flow.
3. Share your insights in relevant ways:
- Share a personal story. It can be empowering to others if leaders are seen in a personal – and sometimes vulnerable – way. But care needs to be taken not to simply be seen as simply grandstanding.
- Provide an analogy that resonates. Often a story from the sporting world, another business sector, or a parable can have a powerful impact on other’s understanding of situations. Analogies and stories can make a point more real – but take care, as this is another technique that requires skill and insight to have maximum impact. And the analogy must be relevant for the listener. Not everybody will relate to your favourite tennis story.
- Suggest a book or film that causes people to think. Again, do this with discretion so as not to be perceived as someone who just wants to show off their knowledge.
- Talk about your weaknesses. This can also be a powerful way to lead and connect with others. As with other items in this section – take care not to preach.
- Provide candid feedback. We sometimes skirt around issues so as not to hurt or offend others. In the same way that being overly blunt is not a recommended way to lead – ignoring blatant problems and issues is also not a policy for peak performance. Sometimes honesty is the best policy – but do it with respect and understanding for the other person.
4. Challenge people to think differently:
- Challenge your team to do better by asking “is this the best we can do?” This does not need to be focussed on any one individual – but is best used as a broader question. For example – do we have the right tools? Are there resources or training we can use to get better outcomes? Can we do things differently? And – sometimes – we can also challenge individuals who we know can do better.
- Ask what things we should be doing less of. As well as concentrating on strengths – look for feedback on areas that are slowing down individuals or the team. The leader’s job is to remove obstacles and roadblocks.
- Make a bold statement. Sometimes – particularly in difficult times – people can relate to simple statements, stated plainly. Avoid management jargon and consultant speak. Say what you mean.
- Establish an extraordinary goal. People will rally to a cause they think is worthwhile – even if it seems unachievable. Think of President Kennedy’s goal which he announced in the early 1960s “to put a man on the moon, and bring them back safely, before the end of the decade”. Bold and easy to understand. And they did.
- Compete with your best competitor. Assuming you’re not the best performer in your industry, continually strive to match – and beat – the best. Don’t copy them – innovate, create and out service them. Use them not as something to be replicated – but as a measuring point and a gauge for your success.
5. Clarify to reduce confusion and increase understanding:
- Clarify the desired business outcomes, and why they are important. People can only concentrate on a few things at once. Many organisations spread competing messages that serve to confuse team members. Have precise, clear objectives that can be realistically measured.
- Clarify the risks and rewards of taking action. Particularly in a sales environment, rewards need to be linked with the behaviours that are needed for both long and short term success. Make the rewards clear – and don’t change them without consultation and fair warning.
- Clarify the broader impact of success. As well as understanding what the individual rewards linked to success are – make a wider connection to the team, division and organisation as a whole.
- Clarify the behaviours and results which are expected. Sales success is often measured in small steps. Encourage and reward this. Also make it clear that the means will not justify the ends (unless you want anarchic behaviour). The rules should be clear and link closely to organisational and team culture.
- Follow-up to clarify priorities. As well as delivering clear and bold statements – follow-up to ensure people are moving toward the results which are required.
So – thank you Dan for some practical action points on leadership. Food for leadership thought. What do you think about each point as it relates to your team and your leadership? Keep your personality, keep your integrity and keep your values. But think regularly about your actions as a leader – we can all improve, always.
For more practical ideas like this, read Dan’s book, or access his web-site where he has heaps of material which focuses on the topic of business growth. You’ll find more about Dan here:
Thanks for reading this post – Paul Sparks, Sales Effectiveness Australasia.
“Taking you beyond sales training and keeping you informed about the latest ideas, trends, innovation, research & best practice in professional selling and sales management”
If you would like to connect with Paul Sparks please email paulsparks [at] saleseffectiveness.com.au