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This chapter is from the book

Self-Management, the Rest of the Story

Self-management requires self-analysis. Chances are you’re not getting much real feedback from your subordinates and maybe not from your boss. If you are, that’s great. But, as for many of us, a good deal of self-analysis is needed to complement what little feedback we get from others. Take time to do a self-inventory of some important issues that determine your ultimate success in sales management.

Following are 15 questions essential for effectively managing yourself.

1. Are You Advancing or Retreating?

Successful leaders and companies constantly adapt to succeed. It’s an either/or situation: Either you’re gaining ground or you’re losing it. General George S. Patton, legendary leader who led key World War II campaigns, said, “I don’t want any messages saying ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a...thing. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go under, over, or through the enemy.”

If you, as a sales manager, are holding your ground, staying the same, you can bet the train has already left you at the station. Sales managers are like sharks who breathe by continually moving forward. When sales managers stop forward movement, they don’t simply stagnate, they retreat. That’s the law of the sales jungle, the brutal truth of sales leadership.

The only thing predictable about sales management is continual change. Markets can change overnight. Customers’ needs vary by the day. Competitors switch to new tactics faster than the eye can see. New threats and opportunities pop up like whack-a-moles. Technology, well, you know that story. The rate of change is daunting, even disorienting if you’re not advancing and adjusting.

At the heart of a manager’s growth are learning and self-development. This means seeking (and teaching) the latest in technology, sales techniques, market intelligence, and product applications. That’s the easy part. The hard part is self-development, which requires self-awareness and fine-tuning your inner dynamics, such as patience, listening, and impulse control. The big challenge is that sales managers don’t have a lot of help in developing their skills.

Only half of the top 25 business schools in America offer sales management courses, according to U.S. News & World Report. Many, if not a majority of, sales managers are former salespeople promoted into management with little training or organizational support. Researchers at Drexel University and the University of Florida studied 286 sales managers from a wide cross section of U.S. companies, stating that 57% had no training after being named sales manager.

For those of us who aren’t natural born leaders (which is the vast majority of us), sales manager training has become a do-it-yourself program. Of course, it has always been like that since most training budgets have traditionally been aimed at the sales force itself, pretty much leaving managers to fend for themselves. In reality, the lack of company-sponsored training has had little impact on the success of top sales managers. That’s because successful managers take the initiative to train themselves. Successful leaders have an insatiable appetite for learning. They continuously seek and gather information that makes them better leaders and gives their teams a competitive advantage. They realize that leaders are made, not born. You might have inherited traits such as intelligence or verbal ability, but two-thirds of leadership is learned. Regardless of genetics, many sales leaders have developed themselves into people of power and influence through continuous learning.

2. Are You Stuck in a Rut?

Some say that leadership is a matter of perpetually redeveloping or reinventing oneself. “Unlike past generations that could rely on a consistent set of core skills and a clear career path, today we all must constantly revisit our skills, reinvestigate our aspirations, and reconstitute our careers,” said Samuel Bacharach, author of Get Them on Your Side. “This is often difficult because we’re trapped in routine, avoid risk and simply like being comfortable. But we must reinvent ourselves because of the turbulence around us. Technological disruptions, shifting organizational structures and unpredictable markets demand that we pivot and take unexpected directions. The very core knowledge around us, the very organizations in which we work, the very markets that demand our attention, are changing at such a rapid pace that skills, insights and observations that were true at one point are no longer true or at best, are no longer accurate.”

The Mills Study, conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, tracked subjects over 50 years of age, showing that it’s never too late to reinvent oneself. “Even at 60 years old, people can resolve to make themselves more the people they would like to become,” said study director Ravenna Helson in a Psychology Today article. The trick for sales managers is to start earlier, and to take the time to become your ideal self. Too many times, we’re just too busy to make progress in self-development. We get caught up in the daily demand of sales management and fail to take the time to make ourselves better managers. In fact, high achievers are more likely to neglect their long-term goals and personal improvement because they are focused on solving today’s problems.

Reinventing oneself, or becoming the manager you want to be, is a three-step process. First is an honest self-assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and passions. You need to know the areas in which you need improvement. Observe successful managers around you. What do they have that you need? Consider taking a self-assessment survey; they’re affordable and plentiful online. Listen to others’ assessments of you, even if they’re saying things you don’t like to hear about yourself. A good self-assessment helps you to target your educational efforts, setting priorities for training and especially aiming to strengthen weaknesses that might be holding back your long-term potential. For example, do you have a short-fuse temper that hampers your relationships with peers and subordinates? Are you impatient to the point of being abrupt and abrasive? Do you delegate effectively? Do you need more polish in speaking to large groups? Do you need a better understanding of financials and the economy? There is something hampering your progress. Find it and address it.

Second, determine long-term goals in terms of career path and personal characteristics. Career-wise, do you want to be a vice president in two years? Do you want the CEO job in five years? Do you hunger to run your own company? What do these people do to reach these positions? What are the core skills needed? How do these people walk and talk and conduct themselves? Envision yourself in that position—what kind of person do you need to be to get and hold the job? Picture your ideal self, and then develop a program to become that person. In setting your goals, keep this in mind: Numerous studies suggest that people who are intrinsically motivated—working toward things they find personally fulfilling—are more satisfied with their lives than those who are extrinsically motivated, driven by money and status. Intrinsic motivation in sales management is loving the job and the people more than the pay and perks. The most successful sales managers are those who are fulfilled by developing their people and making a contribution to the organization’s success. It’s no coincidence that higher levels of intrinsic motivation lead to higher levels of extrinsic reward. On the other hand, if your goal setting is extrinsically motivated, chances are you might reach your ideal self but not be happy with what you find.

Third, just do it. Educate yourself to become who you want to be. Be a student of people management. Read books. Go to seminars. Attend webinars. Subscribe to newsletters and professional blogs. If you’re not growing and learning, you’re slipping behind. And that’s a great disservice to your people and your organization. If, today, you are managing the same way you managed two years ago, you’re stagnating. No matter how good your results are, it’s delusional to think you can’t get better. Continuous learning is the key to improving your skills and your results. Company-sponsored management training can be effective, but don’t wait to be trained. Learn on your own, take the initiative to know the latest trends and practices of people management.

In addition, be a student of the sales profession and stay abreast of the latest technological and strategic developments in selling. Researchers and consultants offer a continuous stream of information on ways to improve your team’s sales effectiveness. Much of it is free, with online convenience. Join sales groups on LinkedIn or other sales Web sites and blogs to get daily updates at no cost. For a small cost, you can subscribe to online newsletters and magazines that offer valuable sales tips and techniques.

Take it a step further—keep in tune with your industry trends. Subscribe to trade magazines and industry blogs. Be it telecommunications or office products or insurance, everything you know about your business can be translated to sales. The intelligence gained from industry trends helps your sales team adapt to product applications, pricing, and competition.

In addition, constantly monitor yourself and ask why you react in certain ways to situations. Take an online personality assessment to help evaluate your personality type and aptitudes. Self-knowledge will help you relate to your team and help you refine your interpersonal skills. At the same time, evaluate your goals and make sure you’re making progress to that ideal self that you envision becoming. It will take reinventing yourself more than once, but that’s something leaders do on a regular basis—that is to constantly evaluate themselves and their objectives to become the best they can be.

3. Are You Really Using Your Brain?

You could say that our brains want us to be better sales managers. The brain is wired to accommodate self-improvement and adaptive behavior. With the advent of MRI and other advanced research technology, researchers have found a fascinating function of the brain: Our thoughts can change the structure and function of the brain. The phenomenon is called neuroplasticity. According to Alvaro Fernandez, co-author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, neuroplasticity is “the brain’s lifelong capacity to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience. This includes both the lifelong ability to create new neurons—neurogenesis—and to create new connections between neurons—synaptogenesis.... A consequence of the brain’s plasticity is that the brain may change with every experience, thought and emotion, from which it follows that you yourself have the potential power to change your brain with everything that you think, do and feel. So brain fitness and optimization are about much more than crossword puzzles and blueberries; they are about cultivating a new mindset and mastering a new toolkit that allows us to appreciate and take full advantage of our brain’s incredible properties.”

Contrary to scientific thought of just a few decades ago, the brain is not fixed and unchanging. It is amazingly flexible and can be shaped by positive thinking. We are capable of becoming our ideal selves. We can reinvent ourselves, adapt to change and bounce back from failure. Using the brain’s powerful potential, managers can become stronger leaders by building skills and habits ranging from impulse control to mental toughness. It takes specific techniques such as visualization and positive self-talk, but more important is the awareness of our brain’s powerful potential.

Neuroplasticity is like having four-wheel drive. The simple fact that you know you have it gives you confidence. When you know how to activate and use it, four-wheel drive will take you places others can’t go. As Buddha once said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

4. Speaking of Adaptability, Are You an Adaptive Leader?

Many good sales managers have learned to maintain momentum by using adaptive leadership. The U.S. Army War College has an acronym for battle situations that applies to everyday sales activities: VUCA, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Similar to military leaders, adaptive sales leaders learn to live with unpredictability, anticipate changes, take risks, make decisions, learn from events, and adjust plans accordingly.

According to leadership researcher and author Warren Bennis, “The critical quality of a leader...is adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity allows leaders to respond quickly and intelligently to constant change. It is the ability to identify and seize opportunities. It allows leaders to act and then evaluate results instead of attempting to collect and analyze all the data before acting.”

The starting point is a foundation of core values that drive their actions and reactions. Such guiding beliefs as honesty, achievement, competitiveness, fairness, and compassion serve as a compass that guides their actions. Three skills—mostly learned on the job—create successful adaptive leaders:

  • Vigilance means constantly being alert to opportunities and threats. The adaptive sales leader hungers for market intelligence, craves technology advancements, and seeks new sales techniques, as well as product innovation and uses. This goes beyond simple alertness. It includes seeking, learning, and applying information in a way to give the sales team a competitive advantage. The adaptive leader has a network of intelligence sources—including blogs, magazines, colleagues, customers, competitors, and subordinates—that constantly provide usable information. This allows the sales leader to recognize changes in the market and identify ways to capitalize on them.
  • Agility refers to the predisposition of the sales manager to consider a variety of options in problem solving, to move quickly from unsuccessful alternatives toward viable solutions. This skill promotes innovative responses to challenges rather than considering only a few options and stubbornly trying to make them work. Vigilance feeds agility by providing a huge database that the manager can draw from, providing a seemingly inexhaustible source of potential options. The adaptive leader is able to design a plan and then make midcourse corrections when needed.
  • Synthesis is the ability to bring together a variety of people, tasks, resources, and data to achieve objectives. It’s the capacity to recognize the challenge and assimilate available resources quickly and potently. From a people perspective, it’s the knack of knowing the right people to involve and understanding how to best motivate them. It means knowing that you, as the sales manager, cannot overcome challenges by yourself but your sales team can. This essentially is a penchant for executing the plan in a way that empowers and inspires the people around you while optimally using available resources. Like a professional athlete, the sales manager quickly processes hundreds of details, using field position and teammates’ skills to marginalize the opponent and make the play.

5. Are You Aware Enough to Be Self-Aware?

Self-awareness is vital to successful leadership for many reasons. (The sad irony is that if you’re not a self-aware person, you don’t know you lack self-awareness.) Self-awareness means that you know your strengths and weaknesses, motives, values, and personality traits. It allows you to deal with people honestly and provides self-regulation that enhances your credibility and rapport with others.

A study, “When It Comes to Business Leadership, Nice Guys Finish First,” conducted by Cornell University and Green Peak Partners, indicates that self-awareness is a key component of management success. “Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of executive success,” states the study. “This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team might have an idea that is even better than their own.”

In addition, self-awareness allows leaders to understand how they come across to others and how they are perceived. This helps them self-regulate characteristics—such as forcefulness, authority, and decisiveness—to promote effective communications with subordinates and avoid alienation. Self-awareness is a vital part of self-control. After all, how can you control negative impulses like anger and impatience if you can’t recognize them? This self-recognition requires you to examine your moods and emotions. If you’re able to recognize, for example, that you feel angry after a spat with your spouse, you can address the anger and control it so as not to let it spill into the workplace.

6. Are You Mentally Tough Enough?

Sales management can be an unforgiving, even brutal profession. It requires more than a little mental toughness. Management researchers have found that success in many professions has less to do with intelligence and skill than grit and persistence—also known as mental toughness. Perseverance might be the key indicator of leadership success, according to recent research in which an incoming class of cadets at West Point was studied to determine why some dropped out and others succeeded. Researchers found that the ones who survived the rigorous training were simply grittier. Their persistence was more important than IQ, athleticism, or other skills in determining their staying power. Successful leaders work through adversity and confront challenge. They just don’t quit.

What is mental toughness? Very simply, it is the ability to activate certain emotional and cognitive skills to excel under pressure. Ironically, many of the attributes that we associate with mental toughness are actually just the opposite. A mentally tough manager is not a fist-banging, uncompromisingly stern taskmaster barking orders to underlings. In fact, this kind of leader shows more signs of mental weakness and insecurity than a truly mentally tough manager. Many times, we find fear masquerading as toughness.

Here are the key factors of mental toughness:

  • Self-control—In the middle of a crisis, the genuinely tough manager controls emotions such as anger, fear, and impatience to remain composed while maintaining rapport with superiors and subordinates. There’s no striking out or striking back in anger, only a resolve to solve the problem at hand. This enables the manager to function effectively, even when superiors are overly critical or subordinates are obviously inept.
  • Confidence—Tough leaders maintain a poised, positive attitude despite adversity. They have the ability to avoid choking under pressure. This is the self-knowledge that triumph is possible, even probable, despite the circumstances. Confidence is functional optimism—the belief that things are going to work out if one concentrates on the goal and not the obstacles.
  • Focus—Being able to deal with distractions without disrupting progress is another trait of mentally tough leaders. In addition to maintaining a laser focus on the issue at hand, it involves addressing important priorities first, while deferring other issues. Concentration plus prioritization equals focus.
  • Persistence—Top sales leaders continue to pursue goals even when the going gets tough and problems seem insurmountable. This means having the tenacity to endure discomfort and hardship to pursue the objective. At the heart of persistence is the patience that their efforts will lead to accomplishing the mission.
  • Resilience—Mental toughness means bouncing back from failures, setbacks, and disappointments. It’s being able to smile in the face of adversity. Resilient people expect setbacks and know that they will get knocked to their knees, but they use adversity as a springboard to better prepare them for success. They learn from hardships. In fact, they are energized by difficulties. Rather than being embittered by defeat, they become stronger and smarter.
  • Flexibility—The last component of mental toughness is having the ability to create innovative solutions by using a variety of ideas, concepts, and feedback from others. As opposed to rigidly clinging to traditional thinking, this includes solving problems by using novel, nontraditional approaches that might involve paradigm shifts to conventional thought.

Mental toughness is not something you are born with. It is not a personality trait, but rather a learned response that develops over time. Like a muscle, it has to be strengthened to remain powerful. Hundreds of sales coaches and consultants offer training programs in mental toughness. They might differ greatly, but many address a few core competencies. One is visualization, sometimes called guided mental imagery.

The goal of visualization, which originated in sports psychology, is to program your subconscious mind to achieve peak performance through mental rehearsal. For example, say you’re running a major sales kick-off. Everyone will be there—your sales reps, your boss, all company executives, and support staff. Using visualization techniques, you create a movie in your head. You visualize the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings as you effectively speak to the group. You hear your voice as powerful, crisp, and clear. You feel your thoughts flow effortlessly, being received enthusiastically by your audience. You see people concentrating on your words and taking notes. You visualize your PowerPoint presentation and how well it supplements your speech with colorful subtopics. You take questions from the group and answer them quickly and precisely, no matter how difficult. You envision roadblocks such as objections, and overcome them without hesitation. At the end, you hear the audience applaud and see your people beaming with pride at your masterful oration.

Essentially, you have done what many professional athletes do. They play the game in their heads, creating mental pathways that assist in peak performance. They envision every touchdown or home run before they even touch the field. In addition, they imagine encountering possible setbacks and overcoming them. They do it daily and use positive images, sounds, and sensations. They even create their own mental highlights film focusing on their outstanding victories of the past. In this sense, many feel that visualization contributes to optimal athletic performance. The ostensible result for sales managers is more relaxed, confident, and focused job performance.

Positive self-talk is another way to build mental toughness. Proponents say that this technique improves self-confidence and goal-oriented thinking. The first step is to limit negative thinking. We all are nagged by varying degrees of negative mental chatter such as “I can’t handle this” or “This can’t be done.” By being aware of these self-limiting thoughts, you can change them to “Why can’t I?” and then to “I can.” The trick to it is to monitor your self-defeating thoughts and eliminate them before they affect your performance, changing them into positive actionable thoughts. In other words, change problem-based thinking (“Why me? Why now?”) to solution-based thinking (“Here’s how we solve this”). Positive self-talk helps neutralize the fear arising from setbacks. For example, instead of retreating in dread at the loss of a major account, the effective sales leader is telling himself, “This is my time to shine, the chance to turn catastrophe into victory.”

Positive affirmations are also a key part of this process. Repeating phrases such as “I am a high-performing sales manager” programs the subconscious to reach that heightened state of functioning. You can apply positive affirmations to a particular objective such as “I am going to lead my team to reach 100 sales units this week” or a longer-term goal such as “As a distinguished sales manager, I plan to be the next Regional Vice President.” In addition, positive affirmations can be used for short-term setbacks or crises. These are such affirmations as “I’ve handled worse situations than this and will manage through it successfully.”

Another technique to strengthen mental toughness is to challenge yourself, to practice anxiety control. We all feel anxiety in stressful situations, but controlling anxiety increases the likelihood of success. It helps to occasionally step outside your comfort zone, to experience anxiety and thereby learn to control it. For example, if speaking in front of groups frightens you, make an effort to put yourself in that situation. Try speaking out in small groups and move incrementally to larger groups. Learn to master the discomfort, small steps at a time. These situations teach us relaxation and stress management techniques that not only build self-confidence but also prepare us for unexpected crises. By doing something you don’t want to, you are building willpower, or willing yourself to perform even when you really think you can’t. Any way you can increase self-control strengthens mental toughness and, hopefully, improves impulse control, patience, and resilience. Challenging yourself to new and different situations also builds critical thinking and adaptive skills that can be used in crises on the job.

Sharpening mental toughness can be achieved through a variety of procedures including meditation and relaxation techniques. It’s not easy to sort through all the methods to find the ones that work for us, but the important thing is to stay open to options and practice a variety of things until you find the ones that work. The ultimate goal for a sales manager is to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the daily difficulties and challenges presented by a host of external sources, including salespeople, customers, bosses, and competitors. You’ll never be able to anticipate the type or volume of problems, but you can control how you react to them. Your reaction will determine your ultimate success.

7. Do You Have Bad-Boss Characteristics?

According to a USA Today article, Robert Hogan, a well-known business psychologist, noted that 75% of working adults said the worst and most stressful aspect of their job was their boss. Findings from two studies by Badbossology.com showed that 48% of employees surveyed would fire their boss and 71% of those looking for a new job attribute their job search to a bad boss. With all the daily challenges a sales rep faces (competition, problem customers, pressure to achieve objectives), the last thing she needs is additional stress from an overbearing boss.

We all have a few bad-boss traits but too many of them might mean you have the “bad boss” label (and might not even know it). Refer to the following items and ask yourself honestly whether you need to improve in certain areas. Better yet, ask peers, subordinates, and others to give you a realistic picture of yourself.

  • Poor communication skills with your team—You communicate too infrequently, inaccurately, or manipulatively to keep your team well informed. You expect your people to read your mind, and you get frustrated when they can’t.
  • Inflexibility—You treat every person and situation similarly without regard to individual differences. This also includes clinging stubbornly to positions even when reasonable options are available.
  • Lack of follow-through—You have a tendency to let projects get sidetracked because you did not continue to monitor progress.
  • Inaction—You wait for situations to change rather than taking charge and changing the situation to control the outcomes. Inaction is closely akin to indecisiveness.
  • Not invested in your team members—You have no interest in your people’s careers, income, and well-being. This also includes the inability to see how your career goals are dependent on your sales team’s welfare.
  • Uncaring—You don’t know your people, their interests, personalities, goals, and motivation. Your decisions are based on your personal career ambitions, not those of your subordinates.
  • Not accountable—You blame others for failures and problems.
  • Intimidation—You condition your people to be afraid of you. Your subordinates follow directions out of fear, not loyalty.
  • Resistant to change—You don’t seek feedback to improve yourself. You are slow to adapt to changes in technology and market conditions.
  • Egotistical—You’re a know-it-all and you don’t need training, instruction, or advice. You rarely admit being wrong, and only then when you have to.
  • Lack of impulse control—You have a proclivity to talk over others, display anger quickly, or make inappropriate comments. In stressful situations, you tend to be impatient and strike out at others.
  • Ingratiating behavior—You “suck up” to superiors to ingratiate yourself to them. Your attitude toward your subordinates is the opposite, except when superiors are in the room.
  • Maintaining dominance—You hire ordinary people who won’t outshine you in the eyes of your superiors. You discourage employee initiatives that might surpass your ability. Likewise, you also discourage your people from stepping outside their job duties with statements like “I’ll take care of managing. You take care of selling.”
  • Referring to past errors—You like to keep people in their place by reminding them of their past mistakes and failures.
  • Playing favorites—You give preferential treatment to your favorite reps, and fail to apply rules fairly and equitably among your sales team.
  • Duplicity—You say one thing to one person, then something totally different to another; for example, you might tell an underperforming rep that you’re trying to save his job and then tell someone else that the rep is worthless and needs to be fired.

We’ve all had our share of bosses who have some or all of the bad-boss characteristics. And, in all cases of ineffective leaders, there’s this irony: It takes a lot more time and energy to be a bad boss than to be a successful leader. That’s because the traditional bad boss spends an inordinate amount of time devising rules and regulations to control his horde of unruly reps. In addition, it takes a lot of effort to monitor and enforce the edicts. Notwithstanding the great deal of creativity that goes into devising these instruments of torture for the reps, the end result is poor results. That’s because reps hate to be controlled. Herein lies the paradox of control: The more control exerted, the less control achieved by the boss. When you tighten the reins, you increase the chance of losing your grip. Salespeople will rebel, developing their own underground resistance against tyrannical managers.

At the heart of “bad-bossology” is an element of cynicism and pessimism. Bad bosses, in general, doubt the ability of their charges to be responsible. Their lack of trust creates a need to micromanage.

Much of this is learned. Bad bosses frequently learn to manage from their own bad bosses. On the other hand, many times the elements of bad-bossology arise from personal insecurities—that is, these bosses have to believe in others’ ineptitude to shore up their own value. Many feel obsessed to prove that they’re better than their subordinates. If not, they might think, why would the sales manager be needed?

All-star sales leaders have learned to overcome personal insecurities. They have “unlearned” counterproductive lessons from the past. And they have discovered the power of working with, rather than lording over, their salespeople.

8. Are You a Sales Narcissist?

There’s a difference between bad bosses and narcissists. Not all bad bosses are narcissists. Some are insecure, others obsessive-compulsive, and some are just plain incompetent. On the other hand, all narcissists are bad bosses.

Are your management efforts doomed by narcissistic tendencies? True narcissism is a clinically diagnosed form of psychosis, but many of us in sales have shades of it in varying degrees. The sales profession attracts those with narcissistic traits because sales is a manipulative process that rewards those who are independent, self-sufficient, and persuasive, and who love to be the center of attention. What true narcissist isn’t lured by the prospect of being The Boss, The Teacher, The Coach, the one who’s now ready to captivate the sales team with his or her many talents?

The truth is the narcissist has little hope for success in sales management. Sales management requires collaboration, coordination, the ability to thrive in the shadow of others, and a penchant for giving others credit. No matter how difficult it is to admit, the sales manager is dispensable. The process goes on, whether or not the sales manager is there. This is simply not an environment for the narcissist.

Charles H. Green, founder of Trusted Advisor Associates, further describes the narcissistic manager: “The narcissist...is wounded and insecure. He seeks praise and/or followers to reassure and shore up his shaky self-regard. But he also tends to use these people and even hold them in some self-contempt because, not really believing in his goodness or rightness, he believes he has manipulated and even fooled others into becoming his devotees and sycophants. He tends to shore up his own self-regard by devaluing others. He also is...sensitive to—and some times explosively reactive to—criticism.”

Those with narcissistic tendencies are eager to talk about themselves, but not so eager to hear about you. They tend to focus conversations on their accomplishments and idealize their lives. Some are highly skilled and intelligent enough to mask their self-absorption, knowing that it can build resentment from others. In fact, you can find many who are generous and giving—as long as it doesn’t impose a hardship on them. There’s always an ulterior motive for their “good acts.” There has to be public adulation or a business advantage from which to benefit. The key word to distinguish a narcissist from others is “sacrifice.” Will they help you even if they have to make a sacrifice? It’s very doubtful a narcissist will.

When it comes to protecting their career, narcissists will throw subordinates under the bus. They will lie, cheat, and steal to protect themselves, especially if they think they can get away with it. And even though they refuse to play by the rules, they are likely to establish a litany of rules to control their subordinates. By the way, there are many narcissists who don’t try to hide their proclivities. In fact, many will openly tell you, “This is all about me.” They revel in being viewed as a maverick, a kind of accomplished corporate outlaw who can get things done by operating on the periphery of boundaries and rules.

Similarly, other professions attract narcissistic types: attorneys, doctors, dentists, pilots, and others. The common denominators are that all these are skill-driven positions that place the incumbent front and center, in control of the process. This is the perfect arena for the narcissist. For example, even though a surgeon has a support staff, if the surgeon is not there, nothing gets done. The support staff is just that, support only. The surgeon—like a salesperson—makes it all happen, driving the process nearly completely. He or she is in the driver’s seat with others along for the ride and requires little assistance or support. If necessary, these skill-driven professionals could do it all alone. Therefore, there is a sense of control because the support people ascribe and abdicate total authority to the principal, be it the salesperson, attorney, or surgeon. Support staff certainly can’t do the job and probably wouldn’t want to. The professional is the one receiving the adulation, adoration, and credit for the process. Narcissistic salespeople have ample social graces and charm but are usually loners at heart, sometimes lacking in empathy and rarely team players.

The self-centeredness of most narcissists is readily apparent to almost everyone but themselves. Essentially, a narcissist uses charm and the appearance of caring for others as a mask for manipulating them for the narcissist’s benefit.

Following is a checklist of narcissistic characteristics outlined by Sue Barrett of the Barrett Sales Blog:

  • Self-absorption and attention seeking
  • Deception and rule breaking
  • Arrogance and superiority
  • Sense of entitlement and aggression
  • Deflection of blame and exploitation
  • Lack of empathy or remorse
  • Lack of insight and self-awareness

You’ll also find sales narcissists to be micromanaging managers who intimidate subordinates and have few long-term or deep relationships.

Although we all show some of these characteristics from time to time, if you have five or more on a consistent basis, you might have narcissistic tendencies. It’s not something you overcome instantly, but by being aware of the traits, you can address them in a way that makes you a stronger leader.

In fact, many sales leaders have “adaptive narcissism,” which is characterized by extroversion, drive, self-assurance, risk taking, persuasiveness, and initiative. They have learned to avoid the dysfunctional narcissistic qualities of intimidation, deception, arrogance, deflection, and lack of empathy. Effective leaders are bound to have some narcissistic traits. The leaders who are able to purge the dysfunctional characteristics are the ones who succeed.

9. Have You Put Your Ego on Hold?

Whether you’re a narcissist or not, one of the largest obstacles for sales managers is the failure to check their egos at the door.

“I believe the biggest addiction problem in the workplace today is the human ego,” said Ken Blanchard in the article “I’m OK, You’re Not—It’s All About EGO.” He states, “When people operate from their ego, their behavior tends to be based on fear rather than trust. When people behave out of fear, they have a high need to control others and their environment and they have a win-lose orientation towards everything. Even when discussing the weather they want to make sure you know that they know more about weather than you do.... I became fascinated by people’s perceptions of bad bosses, so I started asking people around the country to describe the worst boss they ever worked for. The primary description I heard was that of a high ego-driven person. The worst managers were described as poor listeners who were reluctant to share credit and always wanted to be in the limelight. While a lot of people would think people with a big ego had high self-esteem, I found the opposite to be true: Individuals who operate from their ego are usually covering up ‘not okay’ feelings about themselves.”

As a salesperson, ego gratification is consistent and immediate. You make a sale, you get the praise individually and immediately. The sales manager who expects the same is doomed to failure. If you’re in it for adulation and a quick ego fix, you’ll continually be disappointed. Good sales managers become invisible at times, letting their people take the plaudits. The best managers get ego gratification from seeing their team succeed. Signs of an overactive ego include these:

  • Acting as if you’re better/smarter than everyone else
  • Seeking praise and taking credit for achievements
  • Winning arguments rather than seeking truth; having to be right all the time
  • Boasting of accomplishments
  • Denigrating the achievements of others
  • Exaggerating one’s role in projects
  • Displaying arrogance, an inability to listen to others’ advice

The reality is that you might really be a better salesperson than your people. It’s likely that you were promoted to be a manager because you had superior sales and organizational skills. The key is to use your knowledge and skills to support and teach your people. When you come off as superior and arrogant, you will lose support and credibility.

10. Can You Empathize?

Empathy is understanding another person’s feelings from his or her perspective. It’s having the ability to disassociate one’s personal perspective and walk in another’s shoes. It’s different from sympathy, which is only feeling sorry for someone. Rather it means going deeper to try to identify with a person’s feelings while understanding the person’s point of view. This is a monumental selling tool, and even more importantly, a vital managing technique. Empathy strengthens your decision making because it allows you to identify roadblocks and unintended consequences. It helps you develop loyalty from your people because they feel understood and respected. It heightens your level of credibility by helping you make decisions that are fair and equitable and that are backed by personal selflessness. Following are three ways to develop your power of empathy:

  1. Imagine—Put yourself in the place of your subordinate, no matter how difficult the discussion might be. If you were that person in that situation, how would you feel? What would your needs and motivations be? What outcomes would you want?
  2. Defer—Momentarily set aside your personal beliefs and agendas to fully understand the other person. Even if it’s a stretch. For example, say you have a rep who refuses to sell a particular product. You don’t and can’t understand it—you’ve never experienced anything like this in 20 years of managing. The key is to defer judgment (and outrage). Probe to see what’s behind the rep’s thinking, assuming there’s a good reason. You might find a legitimate ethical, moral, or business rationale behind the rep’s behavior. The secret is this: Don’t jump to conclusions until you know the whole story.
  3. Identify—Remember situations, feelings, and thoughts that you’ve had in the past that can create a link to your subordinate. Summon feelings of frustration, fear, anger, or elation to help you identify. Try to put those feelings into words, for example, “If I were in your shoes, I’d be mad too.” A simple statement like that not only builds rapport but actually helps you really identify with the person.

11. Do You Have EQ? Are You Teaching It?

If you have empathy, self-awareness, and ego control, you have some of the major components of EQ—emotional quotient or emotional intelligence. EQ—which can be learned to some extent—is a natural remedy for bad-boss characteristics and sales narcissism.

Recent management studies have shown that EQ is even more important than IQ in management success. According to Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, EQ helped explain a peculiar research finding from the 1990s: Businesspeople with average IQs outperformed those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. Although IQ, for many years, had been the primary identifier of business success, EQ has been found to be a more potent characteristic of high managerial performance. Bradberry found 90% of top performers to be high in EQ but found only 20% of bottom performers to be high in EQ. Furthermore, those with high EQs earn an average of $29,000 more per year than those with low EQs.

EQ is composed of internal skills (the ways we manage ourselves) and external skills (how we interact with others).

Internal EQ Skills

Managing ourselves begins with self-awareness, previously described as the ability to understand one’s strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and behavior. It allows us to recognize when our behavior is appropriate to the situation and how we affect others. People who are self-aware know when to talk and when to listen. They have an inner filter that helps them say the right thing at the right time or, more importantly, prevents them from saying the wrong thing. This inner gyroscope keeps them aligned with people and in sync with situations. This self-monitoring allows a manager to recognize whether he or she is, for example, coming on too strong and intimidating a subordinate. In this way, it helps the sales manager adapt behavior to effectively reach the sales rep in a nonthreatening way.

Self-regulation is the next phase of EQ internal skills. This is simply the ability to manage emotions. Sales management can be an emotionally charged activity, especially considering the mercurial nature of salespeople. Clearly, it’s important to control our anger, disappointment, and frustration in order to maintain effective communications with our people. By omitting counterproductive emotions—and staying cool, calm, and collected—we’re able to focus on mutually agreeable problem solving while maintaining good working relations.

Self-initiative is the third part of internal skills. Sales managers with high EQs usually have above-average levels of initiative. They are motivated internally without outside incentives. Their inner drive enables them to set high goals and develop strategies to achieve them.

External EQ Skills

Empathy, as outlined earlier, is the first element of EQ. This allows the sales manager to understand and try to connect to others’ opinions and emotions. By putting themselves in others’ situations, managers are more able to develop their salespeople by listening and giving constructive feedback. In many cases, the high-EQ manager is able to link others’ expressions to their own experience, which further helps the manager identify with subordinates and provide appropriate responses.

The second external EQ factor is social perception, an aptitude for reading facial expressions, body language, and verbal cues. It takes focused concentration, but it helps the sales manager adapt to others’ needs and target communications effectively. For example, if a subordinate’s facial expressions show confusion about a new pricing program, the manager is able to change coaching tactics, perhaps using examples or anecdotes to make it clearer. Moreover, high-EQ managers are able to not only recognize but help others express their feelings through such statements as “I think I understand how frustrated you feel about this new product. It just doesn’t seem to offer the benefits our customers expect.”

Assertiveness is another EQ factor that successful managers (and salespeople) exhibit on a regular basis. In essence, they are able to communicate authoritatively without being authoritarian. They can guide and direct subordinates without micromanaging. They resolve conflicts firmly but amiably, leaving everyone feeling respected. In addition, they are able to facilitate change aggressively without alienating the troops.

Developing Your EQ and Teaching It

Many of us in sales constantly battle self-defeating behavior such as lack of impulse control and self-absorption. That goes with the territory when your livelihood is based primarily on your singular efforts to persuade people to buy. It’s you against the vagaries of market conditions, resistant customers, and demanding bosses. In fact, it’s a miracle if you don’t develop some narcissistic tendencies that will work against you in sales management. You might never erase counterproductive behavioral traits but you can ameliorate them by developing your EQ. Here are a few ways to build your EQ and, equally important, to teach it to your sales force:

  • Think about what you’re thinking. Make a mental note, even keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings—especially those you experience in tense situations. Develop an awareness of how you feel and why. This self-monitoring will help you control your actions when needed.
  • Take a pregnant pause. When you experience strong emotions such as anger or fear, pause before you act. Think through your options and the possible consequences of what you say and do. In the same vein, if you have time, sleep on it—you’ll be surprised by the number of solutions that present themselves when you let problems gestate overnight.
  • Calm yourself. A pregnant pause will give you time to control your emotions, to soothe yourself through positive self-talk, deep breathing, or other techniques that work for you. Instead of shouting a response, you have the chance to collect yourself and react in a logical way that maintains relationships with those around you.
  • Be accountable. Don’t blame others, no matter how tempting it is, for your mistakes. Admit your mistakes and assume the consequences. This element of self-regulation will not only prevent guilt feelings in you but also develop respect from others.
  • Recognize your values. Identify and adhere to your value and belief system. A clear understanding of your ethics will facilitate your responses and behavior when you face tough decisions.
  • Walk a mile in others’ shoes. Imagine yourself in others’ situation. How would you feel? What would you think? Changing your perspective to theirs helps develop empathy and understanding.
  • Be a body-language detective. To help you empathize with others, watch their body language and facial expressions, and pay attention to verbal cues that might telegraph how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Even if you misread these signals, at least you’re benefiting from the exercise of getting outside yourself and making the attempt at interpreting others. When you can’t read someone’s gestures or expressions, don’t hesitate to ask the person what she’s thinking or feeling at the time.
  • Affirm others’ feelings. Try to identify with others’ feelings with statements like “I would be angry about it too” or “I know how frustrating that is.” Doing so will force you to develop your empathic skills. At the same time, it’s a certain way to develop rapport with your people.
  • Practice assertiveness. Exercise the art of taking positions and making directives in a way that asserts your authority without threatening others. Focus on “we” rather than “I” statements to assure your people that you’re acting in the team’s best interests. Show empathy through statements such as “I hear what you’re saying...” or “I know how you feel...” or “You have a good point. My opinion is....” The key to assertiveness is to get your point across in an amiable, caring, and respectful manner. This works in developing your sales reps and it works in their relations with customers.
  • Boost your motivation. This is a tough one. Most sales managers and salespeople are internally driven by a variety of innate and external forces. Often, either you’re self-motivated or you’re not. But there are ways to reexamine and enhance one’s self-initiative. What made you get into sales or sales management? Remembering those reasons, and looking at the less attractive options of other careers, can reenergize you. Do you still look forward to waking up and doing your job? If so, count the reasons why. If not, identify the obstacles and summon your problem-solving resources to reactivate your motivation. Build your optimism by looking for the good in people and in situations (read about “learned optimism” in Chapter 3, “Third Step: Building a Winning Team”). There is good, even in bad situations. Looking for the positive not only hones your motivation, but also keeps the darkness of pessimism from creeping into your thoughts and actions.

For additional information on EQ, hundreds of consultants, self-assessments, and tutorials are available online. Some are free, some are affordably priced, and others are more expensive, depending on your requirements and scope of work.

12. Are You Intoxicated by Power?

Researchers have found that power can create or increase a number of bad behaviors in leaders, including impulsivity and lack of empathy. In experiments, people given power are likely to rely on stereotypes when judging others, which creates questionable decisions. Similarly, they are more likely to engage in a type of emotional, verbal, or even physical bullying.

Even more surprising, Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has found a “wealth of evidence that having power makes people more likely to act like sociopaths.” In an article titled “The Power of Kindness,” Keltner states, “High-power individuals are more likely to interrupt others, speak out of turn, and fail to look at others who are speaking. They are also more likely to tease friends and colleagues in hostile, humiliating ways. Surveys of organizations find that most rude behaviors—shouting, profanities, bald critiques—emanate from the offices and cubicles of individuals in positions of power. My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal cortex (the region of the frontal lobe right above and behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior.... This leaves us with a power paradox. Power is given to those individuals, groups, or nations who advance the interests of the greater good in socially intelligent fashion. Yet, having power renders many individuals as poorly attuned to others as your garden-variety frontal lobe patient. What people want from leaders—social intelligence—is what is damaged by the experience of power.”

The irony of power is that the more you have, the less effective you become at using it constructively. Successful leaders are ones who use self-awareness to monitor their impact on colleagues and subordinates, to share power or at least to use it judiciously. When used effectively, a leader’s power can electrify a sales team by including others in decision making and building the team’s confidence and self-esteem. Uncontrolled, abusive power will alienate your team and devastate sales productivity.

13. Are You the Smartest Person in the Room?

If your answer is “yes,” you need to take some time to reassess your management style and your hiring practices. Top managers surround themselves with people who are better than they are. Of course, we all consciously or subconsciously fear that we’re going to be outshone by those with superior skills. It’s common to have the fleeting thought, “This guy is good enough to have my job.” If that thought crosses your mind, consider it a good omen, not a threat. In fact, some make it a habit to hire only people who are good enough to be the boss. Quality people raise the bar for the team, provide a role model, and help the manager achieve stretch goals. For comparison’s sake, look at the obverse of hiring good people—that is, hiring sales reps not as good as you. It might give you a sense of emotional security, being at the top of your team, but it’s likely you won’t have anyone other than yourself to help push results. And that is a lonely feeling. The practice of hiring people you can dominate creates stagnant sales teams and lazy managers. On the other hand, remember that managers are assessed on how well they hire and develop their people. Hiring people smarter than you is one of the best ways to build your career and generate upward mobility.

14. Have You Found Your Style?

Divest yourself not only from how you were managed, but also from how your peers manage. We all are tempted to succumb to institutional pressure. That is, we often have the illusion that if a company has been successful for years managing a certain way, then it must be good. The truth is that even the best can get better, and market conditions change every year, thus creating a need to change management strategies. Use your strengths to manage in a way that’s you. Read professional literature, explore innovations, constantly seek new ideas. By all means, don’t try to fit yourself to a management style simply because your peers are managing that way. In addition, a lot of bosses will tell you how to manage based on how they manage. That is simply wrong. We all bring different personalities and expertise to the management arena, and need to use all our strengths to our advantage.

15. Do You Have a Black Bass Strategy?

Okay, you have your sales goals and measurement metrics set to go. Your salespeople are trained. Your commission structure is fair. Your CRM is impeccable and your sales funnel is flawless. Now, take another look at all the components and ask yourself: Does it all fit together under a targeted, unified strategy? Or do you have a tactical plan without a strategy?

Salespeople focus on tactics—the daily activities that drive them to goal attainment, which includes such things as overcoming objections, closing the sale, pipeline metrics, and sales cycles. It’s only natural that these tactical considerations carry over with the salesperson who moves into a managerial position. It’s much more common to see sales managers having a tactical focus rather than a strategic vision. Unfortunately, you cannot lead a sales team with tactics. Doing so leaves the manager with a patchwork of activities that are likely to be driven by trial and error and susceptible to flavor-of-the-day management fads. It takes a well-defined strategy to provide forward and steady momentum by employing an integrated game plan rather than a “let’s see if this works” attitude.

The complexity of a strong sales strategy is keeping it simple. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with strategic considerations such as pricing, product, and competitive strategies.

In fact, all you need is one sales strategy: customer segmentation. That’s because a strong segmentation strategy subordinates and coordinates all other considerations, making them tactics under the segmentation umbrella. Segmentation provides the spadework and direction to determine everything from competitive positioning to product applications and discounts. The essence of a segmentation strategy is simply targeting the right customers.

Have you identified your high-potential customers, the ones who will yield the highest sales return? A finely honed sales strategy maximizes the efforts of your sales force by putting them in front of high-potential customers. At the same time, it helps them avoid low-yield customers who drain time and energy. In many cases, a small, unprofitable customer takes the same amount of time to handle as a large, lucrative customer. In addition, an effective strategy tells you where your new business opportunities exist—you can bet that your existing top-drawer customer segment is only the tip of the iceberg of similar prospects who are not yet your customers. For instance, say your most lucrative segment is pediatric physicians. The pediatric physicians you serve constitute about 10% of those in your market, which leaves 90% of a valuable segment to target, allowing you to use what you already know about them to enhance sales. The beauty of discovering these clusters of high-yield customers is that the commonality they share—such as buying habits and price sensitivity—allows you to better prepare for each one individually.

Your sales strategy should guide your team like a heat-seeking missile to a target-rich environment. Accurate customer segmentation makes everything else much easier. It’s like fishing. Without knowing what you’re fishing for, you take various baits and lures and troll aimlessly around the lake until you get a bite. The fisherman who knows it’s time for black bass to be feeding knows what bait to use, where to find the bass, and how to catch them. He has a specific target, knows what motivates them, knows where and when to find them, and knows how to catch them. It’s done with an economy of effort that maximizes the yield and doubles the return on investment. (See Chapter 6, “Sixth Step: Success Through Performance Measurement,” for additional details on sales strategy and customer segmentation.)

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