Leadership is a complex array of skills and attributes. There are as many definitions as there are leaders, and an equal number of ideas about the skills and attributes leadership requires. Because there are so many ideas, much has been written. This is a good place to start.
The role of sales now requires that the salesperson be a strategic orchestrator, leading cross-functional teams made up of members of their own company, as well as the client’s company. We recognize this fact, but there are few (read: none) sales organizations that focus even the smallest portion of the training and development resources towards leadership. This means you are all but certain to have to train and develop yourself.
Much of the skills required of the strategic orchestrator are found in storytelling, negotiation and change management. But even though they help with leadership, leadership is something more.
Go to your local bookstore and buy a couple of books on leadership. I make no recommendation as to what books you should read because you will very easily find something that appeals to you, and the more engaged you are with the reading, the more you will gain from it.
For my money, I like to read books by actual practitioners, leaders who were faced with challenges that seemed insurmountable, like Shackleton,Washington, and Patton. I find it easy to distill their stories into lists of ideas and attributes (but then, I am a list-maker). If you don’t like to read biographies, or if you don’t like distilling the lessons yourself, choose a book that has a number in the title. A book with a number in the title means someone else captured the stories and distilled the lessons into a list for you.
Take the time to write down your ideas as you read. Make notes about the skills and attributes of leadership and collect stories of where you have seen these come into play in your business. Especially write down the failures of leadership and what leadership skills and attributes might have prevented those failures. This exercise alone will ingrain these lessons into your DNA, and you will find yourself thinking of your own leadership problems in the framework you develop.
Like anything else, learning comes down to studying and practicing.
2. Learn to Own the Outcome
When you sell something, you are responsible for the outcome.
This has always been true, and it is truer now than ever. If your client does not achieve the outcome you sold, they are holding you accountable for their failure. Yes, even if it is a complex problem that caused the failure and, yes, even if it is their fault.
Leadership is, in large part, about responsibility for outcomes.
Learning to own the outcome means first accepting the responsibility for helping them to achieve the outcome. It also means understanding that you will have to lead others even when you have no authority, other than the authority that accompanies owning the responsibility for the outcome. But it is simply amazing how much authority comes along with owning the outcome. In most cases, you will find no one fighting to take your place as the person responsible for the outcome, and even fewer who volunteer to take on the biggest problems.
Leadership is, in part, taking responsibility and tackling the biggest problems.
You create followers, and you create the ability to generate outcomes through the effort of others by taking responsibility and owning the outcome.
3. Learn to Lead from the Front
This is really part of the above point. Leadership is found where the action is. Leaders have muddy boots because they are at the front with the people they lead. Leadership, especially as it pertains to sales, isn’t about authority. It is instead about finding the obstacles to achieving your goal or vision and then rallying the resources to overcome those obstacles.
You don’t lead from behind a desk. You rush to the sounds of the guns. You go to where the action is and you make your presence felt. There is very little that you can do to create lifelong relationships in sales that tops being by your client’s side when they are dealing with their most difficult challenge.
You helped create the vision. You sold the vision. Problems showed up. You answered the phone. You rushed to the scene to make a difference. This is what your client believed they bought, and making this true is the foundation of sales success (as well as referrals).
There is no reading to do and no list to make. To put this in to practice you have to step up, take ownership, and lead. Many (most) (all) great leaders were baptized in a similar fire.
Great salespeople have the ability to lead. They have the ability to generate results through the efforts of others on their teams, as well as their client’s teams. But leadership starts with owning the outcome and leading from the front. Apply these ideas to be a better leader.