Accountability: Servant-Leadership in Sales

It really ticks me off when people describe servant-leadership as “soft management”. This misconception often leads to the fear of poor accountability. So, when an executive recently described their need to build greater accountability in their sales department, I took the opportunity to frame an example through the lens of servant-leadership.

Explain Why Accountability Matters

A chalkboard with the words I Have Excuses, where excuses is Crossed Out and Beneath it is written in larger text RESULTSOften, poor accountability stems from a lack of clarity on why it is important. Make sure your leadership and sales team understand why accountability is important for your company. These may include…

  1. Trust: If there is commitment to an objective and the consequences are the same whether that objective is hit or missed, trust is damaged.
  2. Dependencies: Company resources are often allocated according to sales expectations. When expectations are missed, it hurts other departments, which impairs overall business.
  3. Culture: If some are held accountable, while others are not, you culture is, at best, inconsistent. Likely, your best people will leave.

Developing Accountability in Sales

As you seek to establish greater accountability with your sales team, consider taking these actions…

  1. Model It: Lead by example. Hold yourself accountable and share your own missteps and failings. Vulnerability enables the team to see nobody is beyond accountability.
  2. Hire Right: Don’t hire someone you’re uncertain is the right fit. Don’t hire someone until you absolutely require the full-time employee. This reduces the likelihood of terminations.
  3. Set Expectations: Before they join your company or move into the role, make expectations clear. Include the team in the goal setting process. This fosters commitment from the team.
  4. Hold Skip-Levels: Team members should meet regularly not only with their direct supervisor, but with a supervisor one level above their boss, as well. This reinforces commitments and alignment.
  5. Check-in Frequently: Leverage regular meetings on progress toward goals. Utilize tracking tools that require hard numbers and definitive data. This empowers difficult conversations.
  6. Request Needs: Ensure the team is regularly provided the opportunity to ask for help. If they’re falling short, it should never be because they did not have a chance to seek support.
  7. Praise Over Punishment: Accountability does not require being an ass when someone misses their goal. In general, invest in praising those hitting their goals more than in reprimanding those who missed.
  8. Sin vs. Sinner: Keep your conversation focused on results. Make it clear the consequences are not a judgement on them as a person, but on their results.
  9. Support: If it comes to reprimand or termination, remain supportive. You and / or the company made a commitment when hiring them. You should support the employee, even if you fire them.

As a SERVANT-Leader, Remember Your PrinciplesThe Acronym Model of SERVANT-Leadership Slide Summary - On the Right the Acronym is spelled out as Selfless Empathetic Resolute Virtuous Authentic Nonpartisan and Thorough

The Acronym Model of SERVANT-Leadership® provides a framework to guide our decisions and actions. When it comes to sales accountability, the principles remind us…

  1. Selfless: You serve others before yourself. Your discomfort in accountability conversations is outweighed by your responsibility to investors, owners, customers, and other stakeholders.
  2. Empathetic: There’s no need for jack-assery. Be compassionate with your people, especially those struggling to meet goals. Walk a mile in their muddy boots and be sure you understand their unique circumstances.
  3. Resolute: As the leader, drive for higher standards, raise the bar, and generally push through difficult barriers. Clear any obstacles for the sales team.
  4. Virtuous: Never allow immoral or unethical aspects of your business to interfere with making the right decision.
  5. Authentic: Be consistent in your character. Maintain your character and composure in good times and bad, through easy conversations and hard.
  6. Nonpartisan: Don’t play favorites. Accept insights and feedback from anyone, anywhere, anytime.
  7. Thorough: Put the long-term sustainability over short-term quick wins. Consider the implications of key decisions from all angles.

Establishing and sustaining accountability in your sales team can be difficult. Servant-leadership requires accountability and provides a great framework for sales leaders. How do you ensure accountability in you sales team?

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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