My series on the ABCs of Sales Leadership begins with Authenticity as I believe this is one of the most important traits for a leader to strengthen to be an effective manager in the current business climate.
Authenticity is critical for effective management, especially when it comes to sales leadership. Sales as a profession is burdened with old, outdated archetypes of sleazy snake oil salesmen and shifty, high-pressure car-buying processes, so operating with authenticity and integrity is even more important in Sales to counter the cliches. As an authentic sales leader, you are a trusted advisor to your team, peers, clients, and partners. It means being honest, open, and willing to show your humanity (while accepting others’ humanity) to help others succeed.
Why Authenticity is Critical
First off, what exactly is Authenticity? Authenticity is perceived by others as being true to yourself, acting ethically from your own moral center regardless of any external pressures to do otherwise. Authenticity is perceived by others as being sincere, honest and operating with integrity. There is pressure within society to conform, rather than to express our own true nature. We all find ourselves playing a role to some degree to be accepted within a social group. I spent an hour straightening my hair every day for 25 years because it was more ‘professional’ or ‘polished’. What if I had dedicated those 9,000 hours to learning a new skill or connecting with my team? Fortunately, there is more space today to be yourself and not be judged by last-century workplace standards.
As a Sales Leader, you are under pressure from opposing forces to balance the needs of the company and employees. You are under constant pressure to meet sales targets; you have to deal with difficult customers and are often stuck in a virtual environment trying to connect with others in an infrequent pop-up environment.
Why should you cultivate your own authenticity? Authentic leadership builds trust and cooperation while fostering teamwork within your organization. That leads to a more efficient operation and happier employees. All in all, it improves sales performance and enhances brand reputation. That’s a heavy assertion, yes, but think about it. Have you ever interviewed for a dream job with an exciting brand and been stood up by the interviewer multiple times? Do you think of that company the same way today? On the other hand, have you ever worked for someone who told you to go home when you got a call that a relative had had a catastrophic health event? I did, and I would go to the ends of the earth for that manager even today, and think fondly of the company and culture which gave me the space to do that.
What can you do to become a more authentic leader?
- Identify your core values and purpose. I suggest you begin this exercise by noting those times during your career when you did something that made you uncomfortable, analyzing the reasons why you felt you had to do it. I once fired a sales rep at my CEO’s insistence and I regret it to this day. I was afraid for my own job, and hadn’t acknowledged to myself that I was in not in the right organization where I could operate within my own directional compass. The rep was a top performer at his next job.
- Lead by Example. Come to work brimming with energy and engagement. If you are having a lousy day, acknowledge it and share. Follow the rules. Be clear about expectations and don’t exempt yourself from those standards. Keep your word. Listen to others and work side-by-side with your team. You’ll see those behaviors reflected by your team, and they will enjoy being part of it.
- Listen, Empathize, Acknowledge. Everyone has something of value to add to a conversation. Listening to others shows you respect them. You end up gaining trust and learning from others’ perspectives. Let your team know it has a voice.
- Be Transparent and Honest. Set direction, provide regular updates and keep your team in the loop. Share information freely (when appropriate, of course) This also builds trust, and your open, honest culture will drive results well into the future.
In conclusion, if you hope to be an effective sales leader, you must foster authenticity. In these turbulent times, we are all looking for our leaders to have integrity, operate with transparency and demonstrate their humanity. Genuine connection is essential in the most effective forms of communication. Exercise your authenticity muscles so you can build stronger teams and improve your business results.
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Lindsey Anderson is a Managing Partner with CROs2Go, a division of the 2GoAdvisory Group. She has more than 35 years of experience as a Sales and Marketing leader for both public and private companies and advisor to early-stage startups helping organizations solve their toughest revenue challenges and achieve breakout growth. She speaks and writes on topics of leadership, revenue growth and customer experience.