Sales Leadership in Focus: Why Being the Smartest Person in the Room is Stupid

Achieving excellence in sales leadership is both art and science. It takes common sense and acquired knowledge, technical proficiency and people skills, confidence and humility. When any of these traits are lacking, the chances for success for the sales executive (typically the Sales Manager or VP of Sales) and their sales team plummet. But when humility is the weak trait, smothered by the sales leader’s arrogance and contempt for the input of others, this need to be the smartest person in the room often masks an underlying insecurity and lack of critical sales leadership skills. Here’s why the “smartest person in the room syndrome” can be deadly for sales organizations, especially in small- to medium-sized businesses:

 

Two Quotes and How They Relate to Sales Leadership

A quote attributed to Confucius goes like this: “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” And Scottish philosopher, writer and historian Thomas Carlyle said, “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.” If you believe these are admirable beliefs, then several real-world sales leadership conclusions follow:

  • Confident leaders know they can learn from others; thus, they surround themselves with professionals who have superior knowledge about many things.
  • Strong leaders encourage productive discussions, but they don’t have to have the last word. Rather, they listen, ask key questions, and challenge everyone to think and contribute.
  • Supportive leaders encourage their sales team members to think, share, take reasonable chances based on their knowledge and experience, and dare to fail.
  • Wise leaders assemble their teams with the goal of capitalizing on individual strengths to elevate knowledge, skills and success for everyone.
  • The best leaders know their main job is to motivate each team member to learn more, achieve more, and serve their clients better.
  • The most genuine leaders acknowledge they don’t have all the answers and are confident enough to admit when they are wrong.
  • The most effective leaders employ a “servant leadership” approach.

 

Dangers of a Bullying Boss

Obviously, a sales manager or executive who takes the opposite tack – having to have the last word, undermining individuality, and silencing ideas – risks failure for the team, its individual contributors, and the entire organization. Sadly, this is not uncommon. Many organizations, perhaps especially small- to medium-sized businesses, are the literal stomping grounds of sales managers and executives who feel the need to be seen as superior. These are people with massive egos masking deep insecurities. While in charge, they poison the sales team culture, making each salesperson feel powerless and voiceless. And because their biggest fear is to be “found out” as NOT being the smartest person in the room, they wield power with an iron fist and an endless stream of BS. It may work for a while, but almost invariably they are found out and ousted. Often, however, the damage is done and the organization cannot recover.

At Sales Xceleration, our licensed Advisors have seen this far too often in companies on the brink of disaster. And while the root of the problem should be clear to the business owner, the overbearing Sales Manager or VP of Sales seems to have at least one true talent: covering up and shifting blame onto sales team members. How does this affect salespeople constantly under the microscope and under the thumb of the bullying leader? Naturally, their frustration often shows up in poor results, unsatisfactory interactions with customers, and a desire to seek opportunities with competitors.

 

A Smart Sales Leadership Action Plan for Success

If you exhibit traits of an overbearing leader, there is hope. In fact, overcoming the “smartest person in the room syndrome” is pretty easy; but it will take introspection and stepping outside your comfort zone. To optimize sales leadership and sales results for the organization, adopt these practices:

  • Give up the urge to always be right; don’t be a bully.
  • Shut up and listen; remember that you can’t learn while you are talking.
  • Recognize the skills, intellect and abilities of others and invite them to share.
  • Nurture potential and hire people whose expertise exceeds yours.
  • Surround yourself with people whose knowledge and expertise complement one another – and you.
  • Surround yourself with people who are not only smart, but also have common sense and initiative.
  • Be humble and grateful.
  • Be a servant leader.
  • Help others excel and achieve and reach their potential, even if it means they outgrow your organization and find better opportunities elsewhere.
  • Encourage ideas, innovation and failure; for even failure brings valuable insights for future success.

 

The Bottom Line:

Thinking you must always be the smartest person in the room is really pretty stupid. It not only stifles the talent and innovation of your team, but it keeps you stuck where you are when you could be learning and becoming more valuable as a leader. Success in sales leadership isn’t about knowing more than anyone else (or pretending to); it’s about being skilled in engaging and motivating people to be more and do more. It’s about surrounding yourself with the best and inspiring them to be even better. It’s about empowering others to contribute, innovate, and even fail from time to time. Ultimately, it’s about letting others shine so everyone can.

If you’d like to learn how to recognize and deal with a sales organization stifled by an overbearing leader, click here to connect with a Sales Xceleration Advisor in your area, or contact us today at 1.844.874.7253.