In Leadership

leadership style

In any organization, sales teams play a critical role. They convert leads into paying customers, help your business grow, and make it possible to retain your existing customer base.

One of the central figures in sales departments is the sales leader. The sales leader has the power to impact the rest of the sales team’s productivity in several ways.

For starters, the leader draws the vision and clarifies the mission for the rest of the team. They also have a large hand in defining the team’s culture and how different members interact with one another.

However, not all leaders are created equal. Their effectiveness in bringing out the best in their team and boosting team productivity hinges on their leadership style. Let’s take a look at some different leadership styles and how each one affects sales productivity.

The Different Leadership Styles

In an article published on Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman researched 3,871 business executives. He concluded that there were six main styles of leadership:

1. The visionary

This is the leader who takes the time to explain the vision and mission to their employees. They define their destination clearly. They are also known as authoritative leaders who inspire their employees.

Even though they set the goal, they don’t detail how the team is supposed to get there; they leave the details for the employees to figure out. It takes a certain sense of empathy to be a successful visionary leader.

2. The dictator

This is the leader who doesn’t bother explaining the vision. Instead, they bark out orders and expect everyone to comply. They are also known as the coercive or commanding leader.

Their autocratic approach may be beneficial during a crisis. However, it can also demoralize the employees and bring down the entire company culture.

3. The coach

This is the leadership style who cares about everyone’s growth and future. They work hard to nurture their employees and are patient with them when something confounds them. A coaching leader also has to consider the personal goals of their employees and figure out how they can tie these personal goals to the company’s overarching vision.

4. The affiliative

This is the leader who spends most of their time building bonds of friendship between themselves and their employees. They try to keep the team harmonious and quickly resolve any conflicts or tensions to maintain a positive atmosphere.

5. The democratic

This the leader who cares about building consensus among the team members. They take time to ask each employee what they think and let the team self-direct themselves.

6. The pacesetting

This the leadership style that leads by example. They work hard and expect everyone under their leadership to do the same. They would like every employee not only to be competent but to be self-directed also.

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How to Measure the Effect of Leadership Style on Sales Teams

To make our analysis simple, we will look at four metrics, each of which can significantly impact a team’s productivity.

These metrics are:

1. Employee engagement and empowerment

Engaged employees feel involved, enthusiastic, and more committed to the place they work in. Employee engagement is one of the most important ways to increase productivity.

One way to increase engagement is to empower employees and let them take ownership of their work. So, we will put both engagement and empowerment in the same category.

2. Clarity of role and vision

When employees are clear on the overall vision and their role in achieving it, it’s easier for them to direct themselves and take ownership of their work. After all, it can be critical for employees to know the company vision, as it gives meaning to their work. Understanding one’s role within a company is integral for synergy.

3. Company culture

Company culture is a broad term that can encompass many things. For instance, how do employees feel about a company? How likely are they to leave and to look for a job somewhere else? How do the employees feel about each other?

4. Sales-oriented vs. customer-oriented

Being sales-oriented means trying to finish the sale first, regardless of the customer’s satisfaction. It is a short-term, self-focused approach that tends to put salespeople under much pressure. Sales-oriented approaches work for relatively small sales and B2C businesses where it’s more important to pump out volume than retain existing customers.

Alternatively, being customer-oriented is a long-term strategy that satisfies the customer’s needs and retains them for as long as possible. Customer-oriented selling is more suited for B2B sales when building a healthy relationship with the customer becomes of paramount importance.

How Different Leadership Styles Affect Sales Teams

Let’s look closely at different leadership styles through the lens of the four metrics mentioned above:

1. The visionary

Visionary leaders engage their employees by giving them a reason for all their hard work. They also empower employees and let them figure out how they can reach this objective independently.

However, the visionary leadership style can backfire if the employees are more experienced than the leader. In such a case, employees are liable to feel disengaged. They will feel that an inexperienced leader might squander their efforts.

Even though the vision might be clear, the individual roles aren’t necessarily so. Consequently, without clear communication, employees might get in each others’ ways and repeat the same work needlessly.

The visionary creates a positive work culture overall. This style is, therefore, suitable when a new direction or concept needs to be implemented, as it makes the transition more palatable.

Since this leadership style focuses on inspiring and motivating the individual employees, it is better suited for customer-oriented selling.

2. The dictator

Employees working under an autocratic leader feel neither engaged nor empowered. This style can be draining as it makes employees feel like mere instruments, robbing them of their agency.

While the overall vision might not be clear to the employees, their individual roles are. This style is better suited for crisis management and when a quick turnaround is needed. It also works with problem employees who might not pull their weight otherwise.

It doesn’t take long for the company culture to go sour under dictatorship, especially in western cultures where people are accustomed to having a sense of autonomy in their lives. This is also why a dictator style isn’t sustainable for a long time. If the company culture remains negative for too long, employees will probably consider looking for gainful employment elsewhere.

Lastly, it is tough to build a sincere relationship with the customer when all your leader is doing is barking orders at you. As a result, this style promotes a sales-oriented approach.

3. The coach

This style is empowering and engaging for employees, especially the ambitious ones pursuing personal growth and an upwards career trajectory.

To be able to coach individuals, it helps to know why they are doing what they are doing. Clarity of role and vision can go a long way in helping the coach lead their employees successfully.

This style helps create a positive company culture, with trust and rapport between the leader and employees.

That said, the culture could quickly go sour. The rapport could break if the leader loses patience too fast, or the employees don’t put in an effort to improve. In such a scenario, the leader might want to try a more coercive approach.

This style is better suited for customer-oriented approaches, especially since the rapport between the leader and their employees enriches the connection between the sales representative and the customer.

4. The affiliative

This style engages employees by helping them establish healthy relationships with their coworkers. However, it doesn’t empower them so much as it encourages them to socialize with their leader and fellow teammates.

Unfortunately, given the leader’s preoccupation with getting everyone to socialize, this style can create confusion concerning the overall vision and the role of each person within the team.

The affiliative leader focuses on creating a healthy culture for everyone to thrive. Consequently, the culture tends to be positive. This is why this style works best when trying to ease the tension within a group or to get the team through a stressful time.

However, affiliative leaders might find it difficult to give direct orders, deal out punishments, or pass someone over for a promotion. These actions might sour the relationships the leader has worked so hard to build.

Since this style is all about building relationships, it is better suited for customer-oriented selling.

5. The democratic

Giving everyone a vote is one of the best ways to engage employees and get them to buy into a project or task. It encourages owning one’s work and getting on board with new ideas. It also lets the team’s voice be heard and gives them a chance to offer their input on critical matters.

This is another style that isn’t big on offering a clear vision or well-defined roles. Therefore, this style can be problematic with inexperienced individuals or those who aren’t clear on the company’s vision.

Being democratic creates a positive culture where every member feels valued. However, things can go south if a majority starts ganging up on a minority, forcing them down a specific path against their will.

This style also tries to get employees involved as much as possible, so it is well-suited for customer-oriented selling.

6. The pacesetting

This style doesn’t pay too much attention to engaging employees. Instead, it expects that the employees will be self-motivated and will be able to direct themselves. This is why this style might be ineffectual with poor performers and lazy employees.

Here, there is little to no confusion about the vision of the company. The leader sets the pace, and expects everybody to follow. However, employees might have to define their own roles.

Pacesetting breeds a competitive culture where everyone is straining to catch up to the leader. It can also be exhausting for employees over the long haul, causing burnout and a high turnover rate.

Alternatively, if done for short bursts, the pacesetting style can deliver excellent results from a top-tier team.

Given its competitive nature, this style espouses a sales-oriented approach where team members care more about closing deals than they do about nurturing relationships with clients.

So, Which Leadership Style is Best for a Sales Team?

The answer is none of them and all of them.

Successful leaders don’t employ a single leadership style. Instead, they use several simultaneously.

The best leaders out there know how to change styles depending on the situation and the current needs of the company.


About the Author

Lisa Michaels is a freelance writer, editor, and a thriving content marketing consultant from Portland. Being self-employed, she does her best to stay on top of the current trends in business and tech. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter @LisaBMichaels

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