Do You Have the Characteristics of a Leader?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Most sales managers like to think they’re great bosses. If their department has met quota, they congratulate themselves on completing another successful year. But have they considered how their team feels? Has turnover in the department been higher than usual, resulting in higher costs? If you’re having trouble retaining team members, you may not have the characteristics of a leader that matter most.

Do You Have the Characteristics of a Leader?

Robert Sutton, a Stanford professor and the author of "How to Deal with People who Treat You Like Dirt," says that today, “too many jerks feel unfettered by empathy, guilt, and old-​fashioned civility.” Harsh, but true. In addition to the general decay of civility, employees are dealing with bosses who believe that making a name for themselves is the way to succeed in business. Most of us don’t start out deliberately deciding to be a bully or a jerk in the workplace. Trigger events usually cause us to ignore the person who wants to talk to us about something important. We might put down an employee’s suggestion quickly and without explanation after we asked for input because we’re stressed about a report we haven’t finished. 

Behave like this one too many times, and your team members will likely be engaging in a shred-​fest about you when they go out for drinks after work. After that, their productivity will sink, or they’ll be looking for another job.

Know Your Triggers

Sutton created a list of seven factors that contribute to a manager’s bad behavior. He pointed out that some managers feel threatened by their “star underlings,” especially if they are very competitive. If you used to bring in the big contracts, you know about the attention that activity generates. People outside of sales are in awe of how you work your magic to land huge accounts. Co-​workers in the sales department are especially appreciative because they know how hard it can be to get a prospect to sign a contract.

In management, you’re the one who must praise the successes of your top performers. But if you are easily threatened, you might also make unkind remarks after a big sale comes in. Be aware of behaviors that undermine your employee. Don’t start talking about the role you may have played in getting the deal closed. And don’t talk behind your team member’s back about how the new contract was a lucky break and the employee made mistakes that almost sunk the deal.

Being overloaded can be another common trigger for sales managers to act like jerks. They have too many direct reports and too many mandates from the corporate office. In addition, today’s hybrid work situation makes it difficult to track who is getting key tasks completed on time. Our research shows today’s sales managers have the most friction with team members when it comes to time commitment (39%) and work responsibilities (37%). At the same time, 72% of sales managers believe goal setting and accountability is the skill they must excel at in order to help their team succeed.

In this work environment, even the best managers may lose their grip on their emotions and actions. In worst case scenarios, they may set up a competitive and backstabbing sales situation to motivate their team members. These are not characteristics of a leader who people want to work for.

Find the Fix

If you suspect you have a problem interacting with your team members, don’t ignore it. You can ask a trusted co-​worker at the same level as you for objective feedback. You can also ask your team members to take a psychometric assessment. When you compare their results to yours, especially with respect to management fit, you may notice a few areas where conflict is likely to occur. Communication style is one area where a team member may find fault with a manager. Slow down and take time to explain the details to a team member who struggles with new assignments. Remember that managers must take the first step toward resolving conflict.

If work overload is your problem, analyze your team members’ strengths and weaknesses. This investment of time will yield huge benefits once you adjust assignments in the department. Sales professionals want more opportunity in the workplace, and they want to see a career path. When you adjust workloads and give them some of your responsibilities, they’ll feel more secure as team members. And you’ll have the breathing room you need to function as a manager.

Nobody wants to be known as a jerk. You can start improving your reputation by actively building on your characteristics of a leader. The process won’t be easy. If and when you have a bad day and lose your temper, acknowledge what happened, apologize and keeping moving forward. Your team members will be inspired to do the same.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels