When Sales Leadership Abdicates Their Duties

As an executive level sales manager you can find your focus being pulled away from important ‘on’ the business issues to burning and urgent ‘in’ the business issues. Marketing wants feedback now, R&D wants input tomorrow, and Finance wants help with A/R issues yesterday. By the way, there is that big deal that needs closing. Succumbing to the allure of burning issues and neglecting leadership duties is called the absentee leader trap. Here is why you don’t want to be stuck there, and how you can prevent it from happening.

How to know if you are being drawn off course? Statements like “That one on one session with my rep – I’ll have to cancel that. That conference call with my Eastern team – that will have to wait until after this fire is out” are the first signs you are falling prey to the absentee leader trap. Allowing this to happen is a mistake that can have serious consequences for your sales team.

When you stop leading many things happen, none of them good. Here are a few…

  • Sales professionals with an absentee leader are forced to make decisions in isolation and are more likely to entertain buyer discounts and other concessions to close deals. Both of these are profit killers.
  • As the customer’s conduit to the company, your salespeople are often the first to field ‘out of the box’ requests. When faced with such requests and an absentee leader, a salesperson may take the “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach to deal making. Customer expectations are set and everyone is left scrambling to make it happen. Worse yet, the customer may have to be told after the fact it can’t happen.
  • Productivity drops. New hires and junior staff need guidance and direction from their leader to become productive. The faster they become productive, the faster the return on the investment in hiring them, and the better they feel about their decision to join your team.
  • In an absentee leader environment good manager-employee relationships wane and weak ones worsen. Morale slides and your best people start looking for work elsewhere.

Here are three ways to avoid the absentee leader trap…

  1. Establish Regular ‘Stand Up’ Meetings – These are simple and effective in keeping you connected to your team no matter where you or they are. Hold them in person or via web conference. Have a regular start time, a defined duration [think 10 -15 minutes max], and a concise agenda. Focus on relaying information that will help them to do their jobs effectively. Provide praise and recognition to those who earned it. Show the team you appreciate their hard work. Fill their bucket. Note: attendance must be mandatory. An environment of “it’s OK to miss this meeting” will render it ineffective in achieving team cohesion.
  2. Give 24-hour Response To Messages From Your People – This goes without saying, right? Many leaders don’t do this. They are too busy with ‘higher’ things and apologize for not getting back. Nothing alienates a salesperson more than being ignored by their boss. There is plenty of delayed response and rejection inherent in the sales role. Facing it internally builds resentment, big time.
  3. Be A Conduit To The Big Picture At Corporate – An engaged employee knows how their day to day achievements contribute to the big picture at work. Keep your sales team current on how their contribution is affecting the enterprise as a whole. An engaged sales team is a productive sales team.
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