In the post-COVID era, it’s common practice to say certain things are “more important than ever before.”
And common as the saying may be, the sentiment is absolutely correct.
Family. Wellness. Mental health. Governance. Supply chains. Corporate resilience. All these have revealed themselves to be even more critical to our collective survival than we ever thought possible.
The same can be said for business leadership.
Even as the ground shifts beneath us and antiquated notions of “work before wellbeing” fall away, executive leaders still have a crucial role to play in guiding employees and refining organizational skillsets. C-suite leaders, including CEOs, COOs, CHROs, CTOs, and beyond, can still exert tremendous positive influence, helping to further develop sales and optimize daily processes overall.
They just have to start thinking a little differently.
Below are three best leadership practices that can encourage better sales results and help promote a healthier company culture in the post-pandemic age.
#1: Transform “top down” into “fire up”
Not much is certain in 2022, but here’s one thing that’s become abundantly clear:
The notion of the executive ivory tower is now completely outdated.
In our current landscape, business ideology has transformed from “top down” to “fire up,” meaning leadership is no longer a matter of influencing from above, but rather inspiring from within. This requires leaders to break down traditional hierarchies, take an active interest in everyday processes, and get in the weeds with their sales managers as well as other revenue-facing team members.
Indeed, Stark and Associates President and CEO, Suzie Andrews, a sales and leadership development specialist, recommends company leaders venture “out in the field” with their salespeople to get an accurate reading on the state of business affairs; demonstrate a compassionate interest in team members’ personal aspirations; formulate plans for growth; and provide invaluable support to representatives on the ground.
Bridging the C-suite-to-sales-team gap in this way is key, if only because conventional corporate ladders can seriously stifle leadership success. In fact, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, warns of a troubling disconnect between old-school leadership “dogma”––which ostensibly relies on theory––and the practical applications of real-world experience.
It’s an idea echoed by Nitin Rakesh, CEO and Managing Director of Mphasis, who notes:
“Leadership, in my view, is a contact sport––if company leaders are out in the field with clients and partners, proactively creating opportunities, as well as synthesizing trends, it becomes part of the firm’s fabric and enhances [the] competitive moat.”
Note: The operative word here is “proactively.”
When leaders log hours in the field (engaging with reps, speaking to clients, shadowing calls, etc.), they’re able to take a proactive approach to their business. They can gauge what’s working and what isn’t, highlight areas for improvement, and inspire teammates on more immediate terms. And perhaps most importantly, they can prepare for next steps to help propel the company forward.
Such active participation at the C-suite level can light a proverbial fire for employees, inciting them to develop an “owner’s mindset” (as described in Zook and Allen’s The Founder’s Mentality), chasing their professional goals as if there were something much more personal at stake.
In other words: Proactive involvement from C-level executives can inspire a company-wide push toward more wins and greater impact.
#2: Look to influence from all angles
If you’re hoping to inspire with a proactive spirit, however, you can’t limit yourself to only one or two spheres of influence.
Instead, you should seek to offer guidance and support from a variety of angles, including technical training, behavioral modeling, narrative strategy, and in-the-trenches engagement.
You should also make sure this multifaceted approach speaks to as many employees as possible, meaning your methods should take different learning styles and sensibilities into account at all times.
This concept is underlined by Debbie Lawley, CEO of leading UK e-learning company, WillowDNA, who notes that sales––and, by extension, sales leadership and development activities––reflect “a combination of multiple competences,” covering everything from selling techniques to product knowledge and systems deployment. Lawley adds:
“The reach of [learning and development] has to be broad enough to cover all these areas… Blended learning programmes bringing together experts, stories, competitor knowledge as well as systems and sales support are key to impactful outcomes.”
Your reach as a leader should be similarly broad in scope, harnessing the collective powers and experience of all C-suite players to motivate activities both behind the scenes and out in the consumer-facing market.
Some examples of this kind of multi-layered outreach can include:
- Sitting in on practice calls to offer insightful tips re: efficient sales tactics (you can even sit in the hotseat yourself to lead by direct example)
- Creating and managing a workshop for improved cross-cultural messaging
- Developing a plan for continued education across all departments
#3 Educate to empower
With that last point in mind, consider both Lawley and Pfeffer, two out of four experts cited here, express real concerns about today’s educational modalities.
Pfeffer fears leadership development is too narrowly focused on conventional ideas of what leaders are “supposed to do,” where it should instead focus on applied, real-world experience.
Meanwhile, Lawley cautions that sales L&D programs aren’t comprehensive enough to produce well-rounded salespeople (or sales managers) who possess both the knowledge and techniques that are necessary to succeed.
If we take Lawley and Pfeffer to heart, we can safely assume corporate learning––for leaders, managers, and salespeople alike––is falling short. Leaders are held back by abstract theories of what constitutes effective leadership, while managers and “lower-level” employees lack the holistic tools they need to refine their skills and secure more deals.
Still, there’s hope.
Newer, savvier models are emerging. Marked by out-of-the-box thinking and fueled by hands-on learning, these systems leverage current social and technological trends to break traditional constraints and empower innovative action at every turn. They feature:
A contextualized approach that addresses the various needs of each individual “student,” while tailoring lesson plans to the express requirements of each new business challenge. Such plans incorporate digital learning tools like virtual simulation as well as interactive, real-world-scenario testing.
A results-based curriculum that drives learners toward concrete victories rather than wasting time on purely theoretical materials that don’t factor into everyday sales/sales leadership activity. This curriculum looks to recent findings on the benefits of micro-learning, engaging “bite-sized” learning sessions for maximum retention.
A pared-down model that respects the modern workday schedule, streamlining programs to work with leaders and employees, not against them. These learning systems take advantage of on-demand services such as online courses and offer compact, scalable lessons (in the form of webinars, graphics, etc.) to help hone company-wide skills.
Armed with these three strategies, leaders can expand their spheres of influence and help maintain a culture of proactivity without resorting to older, hierarchical methods that can sow division and slow company growth.
Or, put another way:
“…If one is able to look around corners and anticipate the shifting trends and make some bold big bets early on, it may be possible for teams to construct proactive wins in situations where you are able to get a seat at the table …” – Nitin Rakesh
In the wake of COVID, the need for inspiring leadership hasn’t disappeared: it’s merely changed shape. Your ability to redefine with the times will help secure the ongoing success of your business––at a moment where longevity and sustainability are more important than ever before.