Imagine you’re at the grocery store with your three-year-old son. He’s promised you he’ll behave, and you’re planning to surprise him with a treat at the checkout counter.
You’re roughly halfway through your grocery list when he starts to get antsy. He wants out of the cart and promptly begins pulling things off the shelves, so you put him back in the cart, and he begins throwing a temper tantrum. You look at your watch – it’s getting close to lunchtime, which is closely followed by naptime. It’s becoming apparent that you have a decision to make.
Do you choose to use empathy by giving him a big hug, telling him you love him, and letting him know you understand it can be tough to be patient—or do you choose to hold him accountable to his promise of good behavior? And which one is the right thing to do?
Sales managers struggle with similar questions: Should they be the empathetic manager who supports and grows their salespeople—or should they be the kind of manager that holds their salespeople tightly accountable for results?
The answer is both. Parents don’t choose between loving their children and expecting good behavior. Sales managers shouldn’t choose, either. Effective managers use a combination of empathy and accountability to build trust in their teams while consistently driving results at the same time.
The Empathetic Manager
Empathetic managers are warm and friendly. They know their salespeople well—not just the details of their personal lives, but they know what makes them tick and what their key talents are. They care about their people, help them build their talents into strengths, and work to advance their employees’ careers.
The Accountability Manager
Managers who focus on accountability are more performance-driven. They track the numbers, analyze what they mean, and use the data to set specific goals and expectations for their people. They create an environment based on measurement and performance standards, and everyone understands there are consequences for falling below standards too frequently.
Which Direction Do You Lean?
Every manager either leans toward being empathetic and should therefore build their accountability muscle, or they lean toward accountability and should learn how to be more empathetic. Take a moment to reflect on your management style. Odds are, you already know which direction you lean.
If you lean towards empathy, clearly outline your goals and expectations for each of your salespeople. Use your empathetic side to reflect on how each person you manage may want their goals outlined to them and how often you may need to check in with each one of them. Ensure everyone is making consistent progress, and ask them what you can do to support them along the way.
If you lean towards accountability, use your goal-setting mindset to set relationship-building goals. Implement a tool like the Growth Guide to deepen your relationships with your salespeople. Understand what their goals and motivations are, but also understand the type of support they want from you in order to help them be successful.
Just as in parenting, great sales managers shouldn’t choose one path or the other. Salespeople need to be nurtured and grown, but they also need to be held to high standards of performance. Consider whether you’re more of an empathetic manager or more of an accountability manager, and take action to grow the other side.
*Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in 2014 and has since been updated.