Over the last 20 years, I have been privileged to have worked with and for some exceptional leaders, who taught me valuable leadership lessons and helped form a solid foundation of leadership philosophies and attributes that I incorporated into numerous leadership roles. Whilst there were many qualities that enabled the great leaders to stand out from the pack, there was one attribute that stood out above all others – Servant Leadership.
Very early in my sales career, I witnessed 2 senior sales people be promoted from an individual contributor role, into a Sales Leadership role. Both sales people were very successful, high performing individuals with a strong track record of overachieving sales targets, as well as maintaining fabulous customer satisfaction ratings with their customers. As part of the succession planning culture at the company, the management hierarchy believed that through promoting these 2 individuals, they would be able to teach their respective teams on how to be as successful as them, and therefore develop a highly successful sales culture. What ended up happening has served as a valuable lesson and a wonderful testimony to the power of servant leadership.
Both sales people were highly ambitious, and very focused on developing and maintaining exceptional customer relationships, formulating and executing sales strategies, being at the cold face day in and day out, and both were 100% responsible for the results they delivered. When they found themselves in a sales leadership position, one of them continued to maintain the customer relationships, develop & execute on the sales strategy and remain directly involved in all sales activities, including customer contract negotiation, and when the sales ‘closed’, he would be at the front taking the accolades and standing in the limelight. What he did not realise was that his behaviour and his approach completely de-positioned his sales people, to the point where the customers would come to him as their first point of contact, and not their Account Executive. So what happened to the environment within the team? Over a very short period of time, the team went from being one of the most highly engaged and successful teams, to a team lacking in morale, and the sales results began to suffer. Within 8 months, the Sales Leader was forced out of the role, with the management team having to replace him with a new Leader to re-build the sales team.
By contrast, the other sales leader took a completely different approach, and within the same period of time, oversaw his team win significant new business customers from the competition, customer satisfaction ratings within his customer base increased by 25%, sales revenue increased, team morale significantly increased, and 2 members of his team were promoted. So what did this leader do that was so different to his peer, that lead to such remarkably different results? He tapped into the power of Servant Leadership. So how did he do that, and what specifically did he do? Here are some of the attributes and qualities he demonstrated :
- He recognised that servant leadership is all about others – Where the other sales leader was focused on remaining in the spotlight, and taking the accolades for the wins, this leader recognised that leadership was not actually about him. He understood that, as Zig Ziglar said “If you help enough other people get what they want, you will get taken care of”, and so he made it a priority to take his eyes off himself and place them squarely on his people, and he searched for opportunities to help them, and to serve them. This is a critical attribute of servant leadership, particularly today, in the ‘instant gratification, celebrity look at me’ focus that is often portrayed through the media. And the result? His people were empowered to achieve, and they responded to his leadership.
- He focused on the possibilities – As the other leader was focused on ‘controlling’ the environment, and therefore prevented his team from growing, this leader actively encouraged his team to explore new opportunities, to openly collaborate, be innovative, take calculated risks and he fostered an environment of creativity. He understood that through focusing on the possibilities and encouraging his team, although they may make mistakes and sometimes ‘fail’, they would definitely grow, develop and expand their comfort zone, which ultimately would lead to better results.
- He understood that leadership is about influence and persuasion – As John C Maxwell says, ‘everything rises and falls on leadership, and leadership is influence’. Instead of dictating and instructing his team what to do, he actively influenced them through his behaviour, through the empowering environment he created, and through the constructive and uplifting language he used. Through modelling excellence, he set the tone for the team and showed them the way, and as a result, built trust amongst his team.
- He was not position focused – Whereas the other leader was focused on his leadership position and often wielded his positional power to get things done, this leader was not concerned with hierarchical leadership. He believed his effectiveness came through his ability to influence his team, encouraging them, assisting them, and putting others ahead of his own agenda, building a strong and empowering culture and earning the right to lead.
- He was humble, and he left his ego at the door – He had the confidence to serve others, and would actively seek opportunities to do so, without any expectations of a return for that service. And when the team experienced success, he did not seek the limelight or the accolades – in fact, he much preferred to sit in the background and allow his team to take the credit.
- He was a great listener – He mastered the art of listening, and created an environment where his team trusted him to the point where they would feel comfortable sharing any issues or concerns with him, knowing that they would not be judged or criticised. And through his ability to listen, his team had a deep level of respect and trust for him.
- He developed other leaders – Not only did the team exceed all expectations in terms of their results, but he also developed leaders within the team, and encouraged the emerging leaders to take on leadership opportunities within the team. This resulted in 2 of his team members being promoted to formal leadership roles within 8 months.
Through this experience, it enabled me to understand the true power of Servant Leadership, and how, as leaders, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to create an empowering and uplifting environment for our people to develop and succeed, and to influence others through serving. Be a Servant Leader – tap into its power, and watch what happens. Your future self will be so grateful you did!
To your 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.