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Top Attributes of Sales Leaders #2: Command Instinct

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Continuing my series analyzing the top characteristics of strong sales leaders, as researched by Steve Martin, we come to item #2: “Command Instinct”.

When I first read that, my gut reaction was General Patton (which, as a complete aside, represents the curious impact of pop culture; I’m pretty sure that 20 years ago I would have thought of McArthur or Eisenhower, but after watching the movie …). In any case, delving deeper into Martin’s findings, my initial read was both right and wrong. “Command instinct,” in this context, isn’t about command-and-control autocracy; it’s about being a leader. While the key statistic of the finding is, “75% of high-performing sales managers agreed that their salespeople are consistently measured and held accountable against their quota, compared to 58% of underperforming sales managers,” the key insight is, “[authority] is based upon establishing an environment where sales team members continually seek to prove themselves, thereby driving higher overall departmental performance.” Creating that sort of environment is all about leadership — the kind of leadership that a good war-time general provides.

Hand-in-hand with leading instead of managing, Martin finds (unsurprisingly) that a key part of “command instinct” is that old chestnut, “punish in private, praise in public“. My focus in that original post was on the importance of public celebration — of putting even little victories front-and-center. But reading Martin’s findings, I unearthed an important aspect the “punish in private” part that I had overlooked.

leaders establish this culture using a “carrot and stick” psychological approach. Overachievers receive praise and public recognition, while underachievers are admonished or ostracized until they redeem themselves. [emphasis mine]

While correcting bad behavior is certainly best done in private, there’s a very important point here. If someone is a consistent underperformer, you simply don’t have time for them. When you actively stop spending time with them, the rest of the team will pick up on that. They’ll know that success breeds success. Simultaneously, those on the outside will be motivated to get back in (or get out). This is a large part of the reason that Jack Welch’s system works as well as it does. Basically, the 20-70-10 mantra quantifies command instinct.