Promoting someone to a manager doesn't make them a leader.
While managers have power, they too often lack the skills to use that power effectively. What you want is a strong sales leader, but how do you get there?
That question is why we've written this guide to people management and leadership development. We'll review the core difference between a manager and a true leader and how to train managers to get there.
How is a Manager Different From a Leader?
If you want a manager to become a strong leader, you must first separate the two ideas in your mind somewhat. Think of "manager" only as a position and "leader" as a series of desired traits.
When you have a position of power in a company, the odds are good you can promote more or less anyone to manager (or be involved in doing so). What you can't do is wave your hand and make them a good leader.
A leader, in this context, is someone fit for a management role, able to guide those under them towards success, and who plays an integral part on the team.
It's important to understand this differentiation as you only have so many leadership roles in your company. If you fill them with the wrong people, or fail to develop the right people, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
The Secret to Leadership Development
When trying to get strong leaders in your company, you must leverage talent, making sure the right people get into the right roles. In short, not everyone is fit for a leadership role.
It's a mistake to assume every experienced member of a company should be promoted, positions permitting, due to that seniority. Management is a different ball game and not everyone is equipped to lead.
We'll talk more about the traits of a great leader later but, for now, understand that you want the strongest base candidate you can find. Some candidates are naturally better leaders than others, for one reason or another.
The challenge can be identifying which employees are good leadership candidates. A basic recommendation would be to identify those with some charisma, who employees tend to look up to, who also show a willingness to learn.
One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is assuming an employee will grow into a leadership position with no support. While they may, that's a major risk and a waste of time.
An employee who is trained for a role can not only be better relied on to adapt to it but will also adapt faster. It may seem counterintuitive but taking some time and money and investing it into new leaders pays dividends.
The Importance of a Strong Process
Many companies fall into the trap of taking good talent and constraining them to no benefit. The wrong sales structures can disincentive workers to grow and do their best (and that isn't the only way a company can go wrong).
Put plainly, sales meetings and training won't make much of an impact if you have the wrong sales structure or sales process. Whether your training is solid but your process is bad, or vice versa, there will be issues.
The solution to this problem is, thankfully, not all that elaborate. First, a company needs to ensure their training process is good. They should research training solutions and choose an evidence-based approach.
Second, a company must then make sure its actual procedure is compatible with the training approach they've chosen. There may be multiple "right" ways to run a business but too many businesses train one way and act another.
Helping Employees Be Proactive
A company can give someone all the leadership tips and training they want; if they keep their managers on too tight a leash, they'll never be able to become true leaders.
Many companies are reluctant to give new leaders (or managers in general) power. However, a leader cannot do their job without the ability to be proactive and semi-autonomous.
Work with your leaders regarding annual sales planning and setting sales calendars, taking their input in earnest. This is a key skill to leadership development, not to mention they may have insight you lack.
Over time, managers should be able to do more and more themselves, with little input from higher-ups. In business, autonomy means efficiency. The only caveat is leaders must be well-trained to handle that autonomy.
If you're worried about mistakes being made, simply require bigger decisions to be confirmed with upper management before they're made. This will still be far more efficient than trying to involve yourself in every sales meeting.
Often the best way to measure performance is simply by looking at the relevant metrics. How good is a given leader at landing sales either directly or indirectly?
In sales, many would argue revenue is the bottom line. How much money is a given employee bringing in? For a leader, include both the leader's accounts and their team's.
However, that doesn't paint the whole picture. For example, how much a leader causes a given account to bring in more or less than previous years also is a worthy metric.
The best leaders can pull blood from a stone. If they're given weak accounts and still can make them grow, that's worth noting even if other leaders may be pulling in more revenue total.
It's also important not to look at your data in isolation. For instance, check out our media sales report to see how you compare to the greater world. Growth and decline aren't always a leader's fault.
For instance, you don't want to blame your managers for things better blamed on COVID-19 or similar disasters. Sometimes the economy doesn't do well and that is what hurts sales.
The ability to measure the performance of employees is critical to leadership development. It allows you to watch for issues as well as praise victories, helping to both course correct and reinforce positive behaviors as needed.
This is not to mention poor performance evaluation can have the opposite effect. If employees feel your evaluation of them is disconnected from actual achievement, what incentive is there to grow and learn?
The Traits of a Great Leader
While an entire eBook could be written on how one should define a great leader, we'll focus on the basics. What traits are at the core of a sales leader?
We'd argue the first is vision. A leader wants to change the company they are a part of for the better. They form a sensible goal for themselves that will benefit the company and try to achieve that goal.
Having a strong vision requires understanding the big picture for a given company and shows an employee cares more than about their strictly defined role in the company. It shows they care about the whole operation.
Strong vision requires the intelligence to take in a lot of information and the willingness to process that information in a meaningful way.
Keep in mind, however, that an employee can only use what information they have. Don't expect a leadership candidate to have some grand plan if they're never given any useful data or you compartmentalize your operations.
A strong leader is also able to adapt to change. One big place this rears its head in business is with technology. For one reason or another, many employees refuse (openly or subconsciously) to learn how to use new software.
A good leadership candidate wants to grow into the best employee they can be. Even better is if they encourage others in the company to do the same.
One element that is essential for a strong leader is the ability to connect with other employees. If a person cannot connect to others or, worse, is rude or disinterested in them, it will be difficult to earn their respect.
Training Managers to Lead
Good leadership development is critical to creating a more efficient, more autonomous workplace environment. A good manager can dramatically improve your operations if given the right training and the tools to do their job.
If you haven't explored our IMPACT Sales Leadership System, now is the time.
IMPACT is both a training curriculum and an ongoing guidebook for sales leaders at all levels of experience—to ensure they make the right People decisions, follow the best Processes, and engage in effective Planning to deliver Top Performance.
Check out what two (of the many) IMPACT System's courses are like by sampling the popular, People - Talent Defined and Process - Sales Structure courses.