Early in my career, I heard the CSO of a client organization declare, "My salespeople don't have to like me, they just have to respect me.” Even as a young professional with no sales leadership experience, I suspected that logic was flawed. Today, I am sure it is. But what emotions should we, as sales leaders, try to cultivate among the sales professionals on our team?

First, we should consider the attributes we need in every member of our sales team. Commitment, competence, and integrity are among the fundamental elements for sales success. A big part of our responsibility as sales leaders is to assess individual salespeople for gaps in each of these areas. A lack of competence can often be made better with training or coaching. A lack of integrity is nearly impossible to overcome, so it’s probably best to remove that element from your team.

Commitment to Your Sales Team

What about commitment? This is where sales leaders can have the most impact. Motivating our team members to achieve maximum commitment is arguably our most important function. Thinking back to the comments of the misguided CSO, it's clear he was confusing respect with fear. And fear is not a viable long-term motivator. With fear comes hostility and dislike, and how can we ever expect to bring out the best in sales professionals who hate us?

Does that mean we should want our sales team members to love us? This is one of the most common downfalls of sales leaders. Like fear/dislike, managing for popularity will result in only short-term benefits at the expense of our long-term effectiveness. While we need to build a trusting relationship with each member of our sales team, there is a difference between a friendship and a business relationship. If popularity is our top priority, we'll face challenges when providing open feedback or holding team members accountable.

Feeling Trusted and Confident

So how should our sales team feel about us? Sales team members with the highest levels of motivation and loyalty view their individual goals as common goals shared by their leader and the rest of the organization. And, importantly, they have confidence in their sales leader and feel like they can trust them.

Here’s a bit of research on trust in our current workplace. According to global communications firm Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust in the Workplace, 71% of employees feel trusted by leadership, and as a result, their trust is remarkably high. But when employees don’t feel like their manager trusts them, the picture changes drastically — they distrust management and the workplace overall, potentially giving rise to tons of problems. So, as leaders, we can ensure our team members trust us by first giving our trust to them.

We must model the attributes and behaviors we want to see in our sales professionals. By displaying competence, commitment, and integrity every day, we show ownership of our message and pave the way for building a foundation of confidence and trust on our teams.