One of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of my job is sharing ideas and perspectives with top global sales leaders. These sales executives are responsible for delivering billions of dollars in revenue and millions of dollars in bottom line impact to their companies. They are some of the sharpest, most interesting people that you will ever meet. They wake up every day and with the challenge of staying 2 steps ahead of a competitive environment that is changing faster than ever before. So, this group has strong convictions about what it takes to succeed in today’s business environment.
One of my favorite questions to ask when I am with one of these leaders is: “What do you believe your organization needs to do differently in order to achieve your goals?” A topic that often arises is leadership. Frequently heard comments are:
- Our people need to be able to drive and lead a business
- We need to have leaders at all levels of our organization
- We have to build and foster a culture of leadership
Each of these ideas are great end states, but they do not offer much insight into “how” to actually develop sales leaders throughout an organization. Recently, we assembled a group of sales executives from Coca-Cola, Ricoh and Advantage Xpo to discuss practical and applicable best practices for cultivating leadership talent in your organization. This panel discussion was a part of the Atlanta Chapter of the Sales Management Association. The topic was: “Sales Leaders Developing Sales Leaders, how top sales organizations cultivate leadership talent.” The discussion brought out 5 key takeaways that you can begin applying immediately to your business:
Key #1: Invest personally in cultivating leadership.
Every sales manager or sales leader should have had a mentor and should be a mentor. Mentors can fill in learning gaps and provide additional insights to help develop leaders more quickly. Select potential mentees by targeting individuals with the qualities and skills similar to your own at an earlier stage in your career.
Key #2: Think big picture & empower your future leaders.
Empowering future leaders requires that their objectives align with the overall objectives of the organization. Communicating the alignment and how their specific role links to achieving the company’s objectives will quickly close learning gaps about what drives success – revenue! Provide growth opportunities for your future leaders through exposure inside and outside the organization. Give them challenging assignments, but also be there to coach when needed.
Key #3: Understand the leadership competencies required.
To develop future leaders, it is important to define the competency expectations of the role and then use this expectation as the basis for identifying, assessing, developing, and advancing future sales leaders. Identify the critical and noncritical competencies of the leadership role and what is trainable and not trainable. This will allow you to promote and develop leaders accordingly.
Key #4: Re-invest in yourself.
Each panelist mentioned re-reading sales and sales management books they have had on their shelves for many years as a key to their continued leadership success. The perspective they were able to now take on the concepts in the book was only possible after having had experiences in the field and as a sales leader. Implement this key takeaway to strengthen your own leadership. Encourage your mentee and other future leaders in your company to try this tactic as well.
Key #5: Do not be satisfied with the status quo.
Good leaders need to be “constructively discontent.” Good work or above average numbers leave a good leader feeling unsatisfied, they proactively work to achieve more, and they become “constructively discontent.” Business is constantly evolving and what worked yesterday may be irrelevant moving forward. Use this key takeaway to identify and motivate your future leaders.
Applying these takeaways in your organization can support you in developing leaders inside your company, which is essential for establishing or maintaining leadership in your marketplace!