Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill


Have you just been promoted to the position of sales manager? Congratulations. One or more of the corporate leaders recognized your hard work as a rainmaker. They want to reward you and figure you can teach the rest of the reps how to land a whale. Before you roll out your personal management style, remember that empathy is the most important leadership skill. If your reps believe you empathize with their situation, you’re on the right path. Here are a few ways to incorporate empathy as you manage your sales team.

Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill

Each of your reps struggles with professional challenges such as closing deals. They’re also dealing with personal problems ranging from a child care shortage to a looming separation and divorce. The best way to demonstrate empathy is to get to know and understand each rep. Their strengths and weakness in the selling process will appear in any psychometric and skills assessments they’ve taken. Using that information, you can coach them to improve their selling skills. You should also spend enough time to learn about their personal challenges and show interest in how they’re faring without being too nosy. Strengthening these relationships by showing empathy builds trust.

Working Alongside Your Team

Once you’ve earned the trust of each team member, they’ll be more willing to pitch in when you ask. But that’s not all you need to do. When we asked what they liked best about their managers, one sales rep said, “…worked beside us all the time.” Another rep told us, “if my boss can be this active and committed, I should do more.” There’s a common theme in these answers. Reps respect a manager who works as hard or harder than they do.

Gerhard Gschwandtner and Maryann Hammers point out that involvement doesn’t mean getting so “overwhelmed with the paperwork and managerial tasks that you forget about the work your sales team is doing.” Your reps want your advice. They appreciate when you take the time to be on a sales call with them.  And they need coaching tips and feedback to help them improve outcomes. Doing all that with a positive mindset means you understand that empathy is the most important leadership skill.

Leading Change

It’s easy for sales reps and managers to become complacent selling the same products to the same customers. But the changing marketplace will leave you and your organization behind if you don’t adjust to new ways of doing business and economic cycles. The rapid shift that sales organizations made during the recent pandemic serves as an example of the need to actively lead teams through change. Sales reps could no longer close deals during in-​person meetings. They transitioned to online video meetings and learned how to effectively conduct discovery and close deals in that format. Managers who trained their team members on how to make the transition and showed empathy during the rapidly evolving process likely had the best outcomes.

During times of great change, the best sales managers will continue to communicate what’s happening to their reps. When the sales method is changing or a new product is rolling out, they’ll sign their team up for appropriate training. They’ll also deliver timely feedback on how reps are performing as they deal with change.

Focusing on Your Team

Another indication that you understand empathy is the most important leadership skill is revealed through where you focus your attention. Some managers expect to ride on the backs of their team members to the next rung on the corporate ladder. Gschwandtner and Hammers relay the story of an ambitious sales leader who was intent on a promotion and “overlooked the need for complimenting and thanking his regional managers for their extra efforts. Every time they achieved their goals, he asked them to set their expectations higher and told them that their salespeople could do a lot more.” The manager focused on what he thought he needed, instead of what his team needed. Not surprising, several of his managers left the organization, and he eventually lost his job.

You know what each of your reps needs to excel in their position. When you give them your time and expertise, they’ll repay you with loyalty and closed deals. That activity level makes your entire department shine in the eyes of senior leadership.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.

C. Lee Smith

C. Lee Smith

CEO and Founder at SalesFuel
C. Lee Smith is the CEO and Founder of SalesFuel - a firm he founded in 1989. He was named one of the 14 Leading Sales Consultants by Selling Power magazine. Lee is the creator of the AdMall® and the TeamTrait™ SaaS platforms. He is also a Gitomer Certified Advisor, C‑Suite Network Advisor and Certified Behavioral Analyst.
C. Lee Smith


CEO of @SalesFuel | Bestselling Author of "SalesCred" | Keynote Speaker | Certified Behavioral Analyst | Global Sales Credibility Authority
If Columbus had an MLB team, you can bet it WOULD be Columbus! https://t.co/7yuTtWEkC0 — 1 day ago
C. Lee Smith