Sales leaders have the ability to go right to the top and become CEOs
Reaching the top of the corporate hierarchy is hard work but, arguably, staying there is even harder – it can be lonely up there. For many, the problems that leaders face are encapsulated in the question: are leaders born or are they made? In other words, are the qualities needed to be successful innate, or can they be acquired along the way?
I think many of those qualities can be gained through learning and experience. Furthermore, there is something of the CEO in many of the sales leaders I meet. For example, effective CEOs need boundless energy, hunger for success and passion. Their desire to lead the organisation and deliver its vision must burn.
When it comes to the skills required, a strong CEO must have:
- Vision, and dissatisfaction with the status quo. They will need to apply creative destruction to the organisation to keep it fresh and innovative
- A clear understanding of their strengths and the ability to take advantage of them
- Exceptional communication skills in order to explain their vision and get people on board
- Flexibility to adapt and an openness to
feedbackthat helps the organisation learn
- Persistence and focus on execution.
If these skills seem familiar, it’s because they are broadly similar to those required of a good sales director. So, in terms of skills, there is no reason why a sales director should not become CEO.
The three Ps
The key, though, lies in how the skills are deployed. If you were appointed as CEO, what would you need to do differently? Effective leaders use their skills to achieve the following ‘three Ps’:
- Set the organisational purpose
- Outline the big picture process required to achieve the purpose
- Identify and link the payoff for the company to the payoff for stakeholders (notably employees).
This approach will allow others to see your compelling vision for the organisation the way you do. These stakeholders, who will play a vital part in its delivery, can then ‘own’ the vision and generate the will to implement plans to achieve your goals.
To summarise, the role of the CEO is to create the Purpose, Process and Payoff for a company, allowing stakeholders to See it, Own it and Do it.
Communicating a compelling vision requires skills of persuasion aligned with a genuine passion. Using your existing skills you need to breathe life into the vision and generate enthusiasm for it. This must include explaining to stakeholders what’s in it for them, which is a vital part of achieving buy-in.
Leaders need to show the way to achieve the vision (the process) with full cognisance of how the business conducts itself (ie. it must be congruent with the organisational values) and leaders must themselves become beacons when people become unsure of the path they should be taking. Leaders need to empower and encourage others to challenge norms and overcome obstacles that hamper the delivery of the purpose and vision of the organisation. Mistakes are inevitable and disappointments are part of the journey, but they also create opportunities. As a leader, you need to develop a degree of error tolerance, as well as empathy with your teams and stakeholders.
Leading an organisation to achieve the extraordinary is tough. As well as being technically and business savvy, you need to keep faith, hope and determination alive, whilst maintaining a focus on the organisational purpose. All of that requires the recognition of the contributions and achievements of others.
So how do sales leaders become effective CEOs?
In a nutshell
- Your sales skills are highly relevant, so keep doing what you are doing – and honing
- Develop a sense of organisational purpose
- Empower others to
- Be tolerant of mistakes (but not incompetence!)
- Make your people feel worthy.