Unomy Blog

The Making of a Great B2B Sales Leader

Sales people don’t leave their companies, to paraphrase a known idiom, they leave their managers.

A research that came out in 2015 and was performed by Gallup says there is still plenty of truth to this old cliché. About 50% of the 7,200 adults they polled have left a job at some point to get away from their managers.

Not only that, a large global survey of employee’s attitude suggests that 82% of people don’t trust their boss. All you need to do, says an article in Harvard Business Review, is google “my boss is…” to see the words that are associated with that beginning.

The scientific study of leadership is well established, but not many people understand the key discoveries, including, as it turned out, a large portion of those in charge of evaluating and selecting managers.

This gap, between science and practicality, may explain the disappointing statistics.

Sales leaders should drive employee engagement, yet studies found that only 30% of employees are engaged, costing the US economy $550 billion a year.

The rate of unethical behavior and counterproductive work behavior is very high. Research indicates that 30%-60% of leaders act destructively. Part of the problem is that many wildly held beliefs don’t jive with the scientific evidence. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” wrote Mark Twain.

People believe, as an example, that leadership shows itself in a moment of crisis and is largely dependent on the situation. They believe that it’s hard to predict whether someone will be a good leader and that anyone can be a leader.

“In reality, some people have a higher probability of becoming a manager, regardless of the context and this probability can be precisely quantified with robust psychological tools” says the report.

What do we really know about leadership potential? Here are some of those things:

Who Becomes a Leader/Manager?

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes but with a few personality traits that predict if they are likely to be a leader. The widely cited list includes people who are more adjusted, sociable, ambitious, and curious. That covers about 53% of the traits that emerge in personality tests. Not surprisingly, higher levels of I.Q also increase the likelihood that the person will emerge a leader, although only by 5%.  “Of course, emergence doesn’t imply effectiveness, but one has to emerge in order to be effective.”

The Key Qualities of an Effective Manager

The ultimate measure of effectiveness is the performance of the manager’s team or organization, especially when it is compared with the competition.

Leaders/managers are the resource for the group, enabling the team to outperform other groups. While those traits mentioned above can help managers become more effective, the best leaders possess high levels of integrity that helps create a fair and just culture in their team. Emotional intelligence enables them to stay calm under pressure, and they have better people skills.

An interesting research was done by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman the CEO and President of Leadership Development Consultancy. They asked 332,860 bosses, peers, and subordinates what skills have the greatest impact on a manager’s success in the position s/he currently holds.

As was expected, the skills that people said are needed in a leader varied not only between the different levels in the company but they also varied according to the job they had and their particular circumstances. Even so, a few traits repeated themselves across all levels. Managers, the subjects said, need a balance 6 or 7 of the top traits on the list:

  • Inspires and motivates others
  • Displays high integrity and honesty
  • Solves problems and analyzes issues
  • Drives for results
  • Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  • Collaborates and promotes teamwork
  • Builds relationships
  • Displays technical or professional expertise
  • Displays a strategic perspective
  • Develops others
  • Takes imitative
  • Innovates

At the bottom of the list are managers who are narcissistic and prone to unethical behavior. This affects and harms the whole team.

Predicting a Leader

Leadership style depends on the personality of the leader. Ambitious leaders tend to be more entrepreneurial, focusing on innovation and growth. Curious and sociable leaders tend to be more charismatic. But with this charisma comes a dark side in the form of narcissism and psychopathy.

There is also a gender difference in leadership styles. Manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and these occur much more frequently in men than in women. “However, gender roles are best understood as a psychological and normally distributed variable, as people differ in masculinity and femininity regardless of their biological sex.” Says the report.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Human behavior is the product of the genes we were born with and the environment in which we grow up. Nature and nurture.

Same goes with being a leader of a group.

Estimates suggest leadership is 30% – 60% heritable because the traits that shape leadership like personality and intelligence are heritable. But that does not imply that nurture does not impact the individual. Even other clearly heritable factors like weight and height are impacted by the environment.

Although there is no clear recipe for boosting leadership potential, coaching interventions are said to have boost leadership potential by 20%-30%, according to the Harvard Review.

The Culture of the Company

Culture is very important because it creates employee engagement. Culture is not the cause of leadership so much as it is the result of it. Leaders are those who create the explicit and implicit rules of communication and engagement in the company, which creates the culture of the company and affects morale and productivity.

When an employee’s values align with the company’s culture there’s a greater possibility of fit and purpose.

How Early Can you recognize a Leader?

Any prediction is the measure of potential and probability of something happening. Since some of the leadership traits depend on hereditary elements, predicting it in an early age is possible. Most of the indicators used to measure leadership potential – learning, emotional intelligence, ambition, IQ can be observed at a very early age.

Does Gender Make a Difference?

The fact that most of the leaders are men has more to do with social factors and cultural norms than a difference in leadership potential, which is virtually none existent. Some studies went even further and shown that women are slightly more effective as leaders, but that may be because the standard for women in positions of leadership has been set so high.

The solution may be not to get women to act more like men, but to choose leaders for their competence, not their gender.

When Managers Fail

There is a wide range of undesirable traits associated with leadership. It is not the lack of good qualities but how they co-exist with the somber ones. How a person manages to balance between them is the key issue.

As we have observed in the past few years the fall of high-up managers and leaders Like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Bernie Madoff, we see that technical brilliance often co-exists with destructive traits that went off the rail.

Why Do We Follow Bad Leaders?

“This is consistent with the finding that leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders, and that these personality characteristics are not equally common in men and women. In line, Freud argued that the psychological process of leadership occurs because a group of people — the followers — have replaced their own narcissistic tendencies with those of the leader, such that their love for the leader is a disguised form of self-love or a substitute for their inability to love themselves. “Another person’s narcissism”, he said, “has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own… as if we envied them for maintaining a blissful state of mind.” Says another article in Harvard Business Review titled: Why Do so Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?”


B2B sales leaders, sale managers and sale staff frequently focus on numbers: Did you make your target? Will you fall short? How much you think you can sell in the next quarter? The result is time spent on inspection and reporting of numbers that are out of the control of any sales leaders.

A successful B2B sales manager must have the ability to:

  • coach people and manage their activities.
  • He has to know how to manage, and it’s not the numbers we are talking about.
  • He has to have a deep understanding of the product.
  • The manager has to provide strategic guidance.
  • Has the ability to recognize that it’s about the team.
  • Successful sales managers are coaches that realize that their success depends on developing their people.
  • They take the time to get to know them on a personal basis.

Or, as Tom Hopkins, a renowned trainer in sales and sales management said:

The number 1 trait of a successful sale manager is the ability to sell selling to their salespeople.



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