The 7 Most Common Mistakes for Sales Leaders

1. Confusing Manipulation with Leadership

A lot of the “leadership” executed by non-developed sales leaders is actually just some form of manipulation. Manipulation can be used successfully and honestly by a leader who understands that it’s a short-term strategy. It can’t take the place of a real coaching or a clear mission for your team. Developed leaders can discern what their teams need and when they need it. They make strategic decisions that will not put their credibility or long-term goals at risk.

2. Using Too Much Self-Referential Language & Telling Too Many StoriesExceptional sales leaders are very careful with the use of first-person pronouns. Nothing will disillusion a team faster than a leader who is constantly using the words: I, me, my, and mine. Using collective words like “we”, “us” and “let’s” reinforces unity and buy-in from the team. Sales managers are notorious for telling autobiographical “in the trenches” stories about their own exploits. Let’s spend more time helping our teams earning their own stories… they really don’t want to hear ours anyway.

3. Trying to Lead Everyone the Same WayIt’s amazing how much time leaders and managers spend thinking about incentives and promotions and how little we spend learning to understand what actually motivates different kinds of people. A sales leader who does not study motivation and incentives will not be able to lead a broad group of diverse people successfully. This will be the lid on their leadership potential. The good news is that people love to talk about their goals and dreams… especially sales people. Ask some great questions. Have some great conversations. It will make you a better sales leader.

4. Believing that They are a “Finished Product”The best leaders are learning leaders. They are observers and students of leadership. Show me a leader who thinks he or she has nothing to learn, and I will show you someone who will be obsolete in a matter of a few years (if not already). This is especially true for sales leaders… where market changes and prospect attention spans are forcing us all to learn new skills at a faster rate than ever. The work-in-progress sales manager is an attractive leader who will gather skills, insights, and followers very quickly.

5. Trying to Lead by Building ConsensusTop leaders know when a situation calls for a consensus and when a simple decision from the leader is needed. If a leader repeatedly gets this wrong, he can work very hard and get almost nothing done. A democratic style of leadership can be a very good thing, and some salespeople really appreciate it… but an exceptional leader always knows when to be decisive and lead from the front.

6. Forgetting that Leadership isn’t a TalentEffective leadership is a skill and a craft. It can be learned only through a unique combination of study and experience. When people describe a “talented” leader or a “born leader”, they’re either mislabeling the leader’s hard work or they’re describing the leader’s charisma. Charisma is to leadership what a fresh paint job is to a car. It can make for a more appealing presentation, but the actual performance will come from some deeper and more powerful place. Think of your leadership as a craft that you will never master. This point of view will yield two valuable outcomes; humility and self-awareness.

7. Not Understanding that Leadership is Really Just a Potent Form of InfluenceWhen you boil down everything a sales leader can do to succeed with his or her team, you end up with one word: influence. Exceptional sales leaders influence decisions, enthusiasm, actions, possibilities, confidence, beliefs, direction and culture. Influence is what an exceptional leader does, and it shows up in myriad ways. Think of your sales leadership role as a coaching role… you are in the business of influencing specific attitudes and actions towards a shared goal.


Those are the seven mistakes that sales leaders make most. Did any of them apply to you? Any leader can avoid making these mistakes, and the crucial first step is awareness.


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