One of the great things about sales leadership is that no 2 days are the same; there is always something new and/or different to contend with, and within that, people are also different. Which makes it very interesting indeed. Before I became a sales leader, I quite naively thought that I would only need to learn one way to deal with people, and once I became expert in that way, sales leadership would be a breeze. How wrong I was! I learned very quickly that not only were my sales executives different, they thought differently, they communicated differently, and therefore they needed to be led differently. And when you added customers on top of that, I realised that in order to be ‘successful’ in the role, I really needed to become like a ‘chameleon’, changing my colours depending on the person I was dealing with at that moment.
Thankfully I had some experienced mentors to draw upon to help me in this area, and through this period, I discovered the importance of situational leadership and the impact it could have on not only individuals, but also the team. It was a real eye opener as it forced me to explore different approaches for different people, which then allowed me to ‘personalise’ my leadership to each member of the sales team. And today, more than ever, situational leadership is critical to your ability to not only survive the sales leadership game, but to thrive.
To do that, it is critical to understand the key components of situational leadership and then start to develop the muscle. Situational leadership stems from the work of Dr. Paul Hersey and has its origins back in the late 1960’s. Dr.Hersey identified 3 key components that need to be considered as a leader, in order to drive effectiveness;
- The amount of guidance and direction the leader needs to give the team and the individuals (task behaviour or directive behaviour),
- The amount of support the leader gives the team and the individuals (relationship behaviour or supportive behaviour),
- The readiness of the individual or the team to perform a specific task or objective.
How this plays out in a sales environment will then determine the specific role you play as a leader, and this is depicted in the below diagram.
Diagram – Reference Dr Paul Hersey
For example, when a sales person’s readiness to perform a task is low, and the amount of direction required is high, the amount of support required may also be low – in which case you will be ‘Telling’ the individual what to do. You will be Directing them. This may even involve showing them and then watching closely to ensure that they follow the instructions and get the task completed.
Where their readiness is slightly higher, you may need to still direct them, but the amount of support you provide them will be higher, as they have a higher readiness to perform the task. In this case, you will be ‘Selling’ or Coaching the sales executive or sales team. There is less pure instruction required here based on the individuals or teams preparedness to take on the task or objective.
With an individuals or teams readiness moderate, the need to be directive low, and the amount of support high, you will now be in the ‘Participating’ mode or Supporting; your support is important, as the individual or team may not yet have developed a level of consistency which is sustainable. Hence you support is critical to ensure they remain on the right path.
Where the level of direction is low, the persons or teams readiness is high and the support required is low, you are now in a zone where Delegation becomes important. When you have people in this zone, you are well on your way to creating new leaders and of leveraging yourself.
The key to these 4 quadrants is to clearly identify where your people sit and flex your style and your approach accordingly, thereby developing your situational leadership muscle. The intriguing thing is that this model is also context dependant, whereby you may be delegating to a sales executive in a certain area, and then directing them in relation to a different task or objective. As such, you must be constantly on your game and paying close attention to everything that is happening in your environment. So as you continue to develop your situational leadership muscle, know that you will be developing and constantly demonstrating 4 core critical leadership competencies;
- Diagnose – great situational leaders are able to very quickly sum up a situation and recognise what needs to be influenced. This will require you to tap into your power of observation and make a judgement call as to whether you will be required to Direct, Coach, Support or Delegate. Everything starts with being able to diagnose.
- Adapt – upon diagnosing the situation and where you believe your sales executive or team sits, you will then be able to adapt and adjust your behaviour and your communication in response to the situation and the response or reaction you receive from your sales executive or team. It may well be that your original diagnosis was slightly off, in which case, you will need to alter your situational leadership style and communicate in a different way. This is the art of situational leadership.
- Communicate – as stated above, altering your communication style based on the individual is a critical skill that you must embrace, as this enables you to clearly articulate a message in a way that resonates with the individual or team, and allows you to achieve the outcome. And a big part of this communication is gaining acceptance from the individual or team – this creates a win/win.
- Advance – having mastered the previous 3 competencies, the 4th one is now to advance forward, which provides the opportunity to continue to improve and to also reinforce the core behaviours and actions required in order to develop sustainability. This enables you to assist your sales executives or team to increase their levels of competency and drive outstanding results.
So whether you are new to sales leadership or have been in the role for a while, understand the critical importance of building your situational leadership muscle; to not only increase your level of influence, but to also develop your team and your ability to develop new leaders. It is critical.
To your continued sales leadership success.
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Darren specialises in working with Sales Leaders to create, implement & embed a sales leadership game plan that will deliver outstanding and sustainable sales & revenue results. He is also the founder of the Australian Sales Leadership Network, a LinkedIn Group for sales leaders to share insights, strategies, resources and best practices, in order to build high quality, engaged and successful sales teams, delivering profitable and sustainable sales results. To apply to join, please click this link.